Tag Archives: cooking

Stir It Up! Fast and Easy Stir-Fry Cooking


On busy days, it’s often more than a little tempting to get an expensive drive-thru dinner just because the ingredients you have at home will take too long to make into a meal. But I’ve found that if I keep ingredients handy in the pantry and refrigerator for simple meal prep, I can have dinner on the table in a flash – and protect my pocketbook from that ravenous Fast Food Monster at the same time!

One of my favorite quick fix meal preparation methods is stir-frying. Including the prep time of chopping up meats and veggies, I can usually have a meal on the table from start to finish in about 15-20 minutes. It’s just a simple process where you rapidly cook meat and vegetables in a small amount of oil. The process is similar to sauteing, except you use less oil, hotter temperatures, and usually a wok. I do most of my stir-frying in my large heavy skillet on the stove-top because I don’t have enough storage in my kitchen to keep my wok handy. I’m usually just too lazy on a hectic day to walk to the cupboard down the hall to grab the wok.

You can find basic stir-fry instructions in almost any good general cookbook or browse through books at the library on Asian cooking. With a quick search online, you’ll discover that the Internet’s full of great recipes – and all for free! Don’t you just love that price? It warms my little frugal heart.

Here are few simple tips to keep in mind when you pull out your first wok recipe:

  1. You want the oil in your wok or frying pan hot enough that it’s slightly smoking, otherwise the stir-frying will be too slow and your vegetables will be limp.
  2. Cut your ingredients into thin, bite-sized pieces so they’ll cook evenly and quickly.
  3. It’s helpful to choose vegetables and meats that will all cook at about the same speed, otherwise you have to keep track of when to add the different ingredients so everything’s cooked, but nothing’s overcooked.
  4. Cook the meat first, remove from the pan, and then cook the vegetables. Add the meat back into the pan at the end of cooking. This keeps the flavors distinct and separate, and also keeps the meat from overcooking.
  5. If you have ingredients that need to be added at different times in the cooking process, chop them up ahead of time and put them onto separate plates. Then you can just pick up the plate and dump the contents directly into the wok or frying pan as needed.
  6. When stir-frying, you want everything chopped and prepped in advance because you can’t stop stir-frying partway through the process to cut up vegetables or slice meat.
  7. Once you start cooking, keep stirring and tossing constantly or things will burn or cook unevenly.
  8. Fresh vegetables are wonderful in stir-fry meals, so when your summer garden really starts producing, you’re in the middle of stir-fry days.

To make stir-frying easy as can be, you’ll want to keep stocked up on some pantry staples. Keep watch for the following items when they go on sale – then you’ll be ready to stir-fry at a moment’s notice: fresh garlic, crushed red pepper, sesame seeds, red chili paste, fresh ginger, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, chopped peanuts and cashews, Chinese spice blend, sesame oil, peanut oil, soy sauce, Teriyaki sauce, rice vinegar, beef broth, cooking sherry, cornstarch, rice, and Asian noodles.

Happy fast-and-easy cooking, everyone!

~Debi


Browse My Books:

FLFD FLFD FLFD

Easy link for Amazon Shoppers

Advertisements

Use-It-Up Quiche (a great way to use up leftovers!)

Basic “Use-It-Up” Quiche Recipe
(6 servings)

You can use almost any leftover vegetable or meat in this recipe. If you have eggs, milk, rice and cheese, you can practically clean out your fridge right into your quiche pan. I always add the cheese last when making this quiche. The cheese makes a beautiful mellow-brown crust on the top. I usually add a bit of chopped onion to my quiches for flavor, and broccoli makes an especially nice vegetable quiche.  And it’s gluten-free, too!

Crust Ingredients:

  • 2 cups rice, cooked (white or brown)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tsp soy sauce

Filling Ingredients:

  • 1/2 lb any leftover vegetable or meat, chopped (single vegetable or a mix)
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/2 cups milk, or light cream
  • 1 cup cheese, grated (your choice: Swiss, Cheddar, Jack, etc.)
  • 1/2 tsp salt (optional)
  • 1/8 tsp pepper
  • Dash nutmeg, or ground mace

Crust Directions:

  1. Mix together cooked rice, egg and soy sauce.
  2. Spread evenly to cover well- buttered quiche pan or pie plate.
  3. Bake rice crust at 350 F for 10 minutes.
  4. Remove from oven.

Filling Directions:

  1. Place chopped vegetable/meat onto the bottom of crust.
  2. Mix together: eggs, milk, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Pour over broccoli.
  3. Top with grated cheese. Bake at 350 F for 45 minutes, or until set.
  4. Remove from oven, and let sit ten minutes before slicing, if serving fresh; or wrap pie pan, label and freeze.
  5. Quiche can be served cold after thawing for a yummy hot weather treat; or heat the thawed quiche at 350 F for 20 minutes.

Enjoy!

~Debi


Browse My Books:

FLFD FLFD FLFD

Easy link for Amazon Shoppers

What Foods Don’t Freeze Well


by Deborah Taylor-Hough


Frozen Assets bookOne of the most common questions I hear from people who are interested in freezer-meal cooking is: “How do I know what will freeze well, and what won’t?”

If you’re unsure of how well something will freeze, then freeze a single serving when you prepare the dish for a regular family meal. This way you can check on how well the item holds up to freezing and reheating. The following lists should give you a good start at identifying potential freezing problems with various food items.

Don’t Freeze Well:

  • Greasy foods (they just become greasier)
  • Cake icings made with egg whites
  • Cream fillings and soft frostings
  • Pies made with custard or cream fillings
  • Fried foods (they tend to lose their crispness and become soggy)
  • Fruit jelly on sandwiches may soak into the bread
  • Soft cheese, such as cream cheese (can become watery)
  • Mayonnaise (it separates; use salad dressing instead)
  • Sour cream (it becomes thin and watery)
  • Potatoes cooked in soups and stews (they become mushy and may darken. If using potatoes, cook until barely soft and still firm; then freeze quickly.)

Change During Freezing:

  • Gravies and other fat-based sauces may separate and need to be recombined by stirring or processing in the blender

  • Thickened sauces may need thinning after freezing; thin with broth or milk

  • Seasonings such as onions, herbs and flavorings used in recipes can change during freezing. These are best added during reheating to obtain accurate flavors

  • Vegetables, pastas and grains used in cooked recipes usually are softer after freezing and reheating (Undercook before freezing, or add when dish is reheated)

  • Heavy cream can be frozen if used for cooking, but will not whip

  • Some yogurts may suffer texture changes
  • Raw vegetables lose their crispness, but can be used for cooking, stews, etc.
  • Many cheeses change texture in the freezer. Most hard cheeses turn crumbly (which makes them okay for grating, but not for slicing)

This list was adapted with permission from the bestselling Frozen Assets:  Cook for a Day, Eat for a Month.


Marinated Lime Chicken


Here’s one of my family’s all-time favorite chicken recipes.  The instructions include directions for preparing ahead of time for the freezer. So if you find chicken on sale at a good stock-up price, you can take advantage of the sale prices and have this delicious meal waiting in the freezer for a busy evening later in the month.

If you want to bake without freezing first, be sure to allow at least an hour or two to marinate in the refrigerator. 


MARINATED LIME CHICKEN (from  Frozen Assets Lite & Easy) 

6 servings 

  • 6 chicken breast portions (about 8 ounces each)

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

  • 4 limes (or 4 tablespoons bottled lime juice)

  • 4 teaspoons white wine vinegar

  • 9 tablespoons olive oil

  • 2 teaspoons basil

Preparation: 

Squeeze limes into a medium sized bowl. Stir in vinegar, olive oil, basil, salt and pepper. Place chicken breast portions into labeled freezer bags. Pour lime sauce over top; seal and freeze. 

To Serve: 

Thaw completely. Pour marinade into small saucepan. Heat to boiling. Place chicken pieces into shallow oven-proof dish. Pour boiled marinade over chicken. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 35 – 40 minutes or until chicken is tender and cooked through. Serve hot, sprinkled with fresh basil sprigs, if available. 

I hope your family likes this recipe as much as my family does! 

~Debi


510WdNuthdLAdapted with permission from Frozen Assets Lite & Easy by Deborah Taylor-Hough (SourceBooks).

Why cook every night when you can cook once a week for seven (or more!) delicious, healthy, family-approved meals? Frozen Assets Lite & Easy shows how to be healthy while saving time and money. Includes shopping lists, recipes, and detailed instructions on how to make freezer cooking work for you. Order your copy today!


Using Up Leftovers


Excerpted and adapted with permission from The Original Simple Mom’s Idea Book by Deborah Taylor-Hough (Simple Pleasures Press, 2015).


Lfrgigieftovers. We all have them, don’t we? But what do we do with them? I don’t really like keeping them in my refrigerator until a science project on mold develops, but sometimes it’s hard to know what to use leftovers for without driving the family crazy. I don’t care to hear another chorus of that all-too-familiar song, “What?! Meatloaf… AGAIN?!” 

Probably the most important step with leftovers is making sure to keep them safe. We’re not really saving any money on our family budget if that frugal dinner of leftovers sends everyone to the hospital with food poisoning! To keep leftovers safe, cover and refrigerate within two hours of a meal, freeze to keep more than three days, and thaw frozen leftovers in the refrigerator. 

I try to plan one meal each week to use up leftovers. Often it’s during a lunchtime with just the kids and I, but sometimes there’s enough food to feed the entire family. A complete meal of food that’s been “found” in the refrigerator is like getting an extra meal each week for free. 

It’s a good idea to try and change the way the leftover is served from one meal to the next. Rather than serving leftover fried chicken, you could take the meat off the bone and prepare cold chicken sandwiches for a change of pace. 

Suggestions for Using Leftovers

  • Bread (loaf ends, slices starting to dry).  Use in bread pudding, French toast, meat loaf extender, croutons, stuffing, bread crumbs

  • Egg (hard-cooked).  Use in casseroles, salads, sandwiches.

  • Fruit (fresh, canned or frozen).  Use in smoothies, milk shakes, gelatin desserts, cobblers, fruit bread, muffins, jam, freezer pops.

  • Meat, poultry, or fish (cooked).  Use in soups, stew, salad, quiche, enchiladas, stir fry, sandwiches, pot pies.

  • Potatoes (cooked).  Use in meat pies, salads, soups, stew.

  • Rice or pasta (cooked).  Use in casseroles, soups.

  • Vegetables (cooked).  Use in casseroles, quiche, salads, soups, sprinkled over a baked potato, in pot pies.

Pancakes, French toast, or waffles can just be popped into a sealed bag in your freezer. When you have enough assorted breakfast leftovers to make a meal, each person can have a variety of different items. To reheat, toast in the toaster on the Pastry setting.

Coffee and tea can be frozen in ice cube trays, then transfer the frozen coffee/tea cubes to plastic freezer bags. These work well for iced coffee or tea, and won’t dilute the drink when the cubes melt.

Syrup drained from canned fruits can be mixed with a bit of milk and made into creamy freezer pops for a refreshing hot-weather treat. The leftover fruit syrup can also be frozen into cubes and used in cold summertime drinks.

If you make a lot of pie crusts, put the scraps into a plastic freezer bag. After collecting scraps for awhile, you’ll have enough for an extra crust. 

Party Tray 

One of the things our family does regularly with leftovers is to prepare a meal we call “Party Tray.” I’ll take all the collected leftovers out of the refrigerator and freezer, reheat them, and then divide the food items among our plates. Everyone gets a little dab of this and a little dab of that – maybe only a bite or two of each item, but after the plate is filled with bits and pieces from past meals, it takes on the look of a plate from a party buffet line. I usually add some sliced cheese and crackers, plus a few cut-up fresh veggies, to complete the party theme. 

My kids love this Party Tray meal idea. I hesitated for a long time to serve Party Tray to my husband, but one Saturday I just threw together a Party Tray meal for lunch. I was so surprised — my husband thought it was a great idea and wanted to know why I didn’t do this when he was around. So Party Tray has became a regular event, enjoyed by the whole family.  

Soup and Bread Night 

One night each week we have a Soup and Bread night. I’ll either bake a loaf of fresh bread, a bunch of hearty rolls, or a big pan of cornbread. I keep a covered bucket in the freezer for storing assorted leftovers (meats, vegetables, rice, beans, etc.) to make soup. One woman told me she drew a lady’s face on the soup bucket and called the lady the Freezer Fairy. Her children could hardly wait to feed their leftovers to the Freezer Fairy. 

Each week, they were excited to see what delicious soup she was going to make for their family (by the way, the Freezer Fairy’s magic doesn’t work well on fish, so don’t add leftover fish to your soup bucket in the freezer). 

Happy frugal eating!

~Debi

 


61ghrkhptflThis post is excerpted and adapted with permission from the book, The Original Simple Mom’s Idea Book by Deborah Taylor-Hough, available in both paperback and Kindle ebook formats.  You’ll find more handy hints and simple ideas on topics such as frugal family entertainment, organizing your summer, avoiding mosquito bites, simplified party planning, and lots more!


Browse Debi’s Other Books:
FLFD FLFD FLFD
Easy link for Amazon Shoppers