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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


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A Simple Christmas Workshop

cinnamon ornamentsA couple of years ago, I put together a short online workshop on how to simplify your holiday celebrations.  I thought for those of you who may have missed it, you might want the opportunity to work your way through the simple thoughtful practices.

You can find Day One at the following link:

A Simple Christmas Workshop – Day One

I hope you find these exercises helpful.

~Debi

Funding a Frugal Holiday Season

santa-piggy-bank

With the holiday season upon us, we often hear the familiar refrains of our favorite Christmas carols and seasonal music. But too many of us tend to sing different words to the familiar tune of Jingle Bells: Continue reading

Musing on Vacuums


file000428351951The first electric vacuum cleaner was simply a pillowcase attached to an electric blower. It wasn’t developed to simplify the life of the housewife, but to ease the dust allergy of a hotel janitor.

I can’t even begin to imagine how badly beating dusty carpets over the back fence would’ve aggravated asthma and allergies. With all our family’s allergies, I feel lucky to live now during the days of efficient units of the best vacuum for pet hair and air filters.

I remember helping Grandma beat the throw rugs outside on sunny days, but my main carpet cleaning memories involved the monstrous vacuum my grandmother had hiding in her hall closet. It was so noisy, it scared me. It was almost as scary as the haunted freezer in the basement. On a side note, if you’re getting the idea I was an anxious child, you’re probably not far off the mark. While I don’t think appliances caused my childhood anxieties about monsters, they certainly didn’t help ease those concerns with all their loud noises.

I’ve gotten over my fears of appliances, but even as an adult, I tend to have a love/hate relationship with my vacuum. It seems like the vacuum cleaners in my life have had a tendency to pick up what they shouldn’t. Pennies, buttons, needles, long strings. Inevitably the motor burns out (with a horrible smell) due to something solid being sucked into the housing that shouldn’t, or the roller stops spinning due to hair and yarn coiled endlessly around it. There’s nothing quite so lovely as the fresh smell of friction-burnt human hair mixed with the scent of burning rubber as the belt once again wears out.

Somewhere along the line, I guess someone forgot tell me that the roller needs to be cleared of long hair and strings regularly. Or I forgot to read the instructions. Either way, I’ve burned out more than my share of vacuum cleaners over the years.

Recently, I was given a brand new vacuum without bags, a stronger dust filter, and an easier turning capacity (which is nice but not something that ever really bothered me about the older models). It also works great as a vacuum for the car. And since its light weight I can carry it outside with ease. Its best feature is that it has non-stop suction that doesn’t quit even when the dustbin is full.

So far, so good. It’s been six months. And I haven’t killed it yet.

~Debi

Musing on Freezers


vintage ice box MGD©I can remember standing in my great-grandmother’s kitchen and looking into her ice box. Yes, she had an old-fashioned ice box, complete with regular deliveries from the iceman. The Iceman continued to “cometh” into many homes well into the 1960’s when electric refrigerators and freezers finally made the ice box and its daily deliveryman obsolete.

My great-grandmother’s ice box was a beautiful piece of furniture. It was lined with metal throughout the inside of its thick walls. The main thing I remember coming out of the icebox was the glass milk bottle, complete with little cardboard cover over its opening. My great-grandfather used to take swigs directly from the milk bottle when his wife was out of the room, winking at me to show he trusted me to keep his “secret” from my great-grandma.

At my other grandparents’ house, they had a large deep freeze in the dark recesses of the back of their basement. The kitchen refrigerator only had a tiny freezer compartment, just large enough for holding two metal trays of ice cubes. Anything else to be kept frozen was kept in the deep freeze.

Certain that the dark basement with its gigantic noisy freezer was haunted, I was always terrified to be sent to the deep freeze to retrieve the box of ice cream. Even though being sent to get the treat meant I could have my choice of flavors, it was still my least favorite duty when visiting Grandma. I don’t think anyone in the family ever fully understood I was truly terrified of the basement. Especially of the freezer.

Oh, the imagination of childhood. It isn’t all rainbows and fairies. Sometimes it consists of haunted freezers and demons hiding in dark corners. I was so excited when Grandma finally bought a new refrigerator for the kitchen that had enough space to store the ice cream. No more trips alone down the steep stairway into the belly of the house’s basement. This was one time when the siren call of new-and-better Consumer Culture was a good thing, at least to my tiny childhood self.

Back at my house, my parents were young and somewhat “hip” and usually the first on our street to get the latest and greatest appliances. For example, we were the first house on the block to have color television. We were also the first to have a full-size refrigerator/freezer.

My clearest memory of our freezer was my mom making frozen treats from orange juice or lemonade. Whenever the neighborhood kids and I heard the tell-tale music of the ice cream truck, I was told by my mom that it was the signal for me to come in the house and get one of Mom’s homemade popsicles. At the time, I didn’t realize it was my mom’s way of saving money. It was much cheaper to make frozen treats with juice than to purchase the individual ice pops each day from the ice cream truck. My friends were jealous. Mom’s juice pops were better than any blue or purple freezer-burned offering from the truck. It wasn’t long before my mom had a line of children at the backdoor asking if they could give her their ice cream money for a juice popsicle. She let them keep their change and gave out popsicles freely.

My mom’s nickname in the neighborhood became The Popsicle Lady.  I miss the Popsicle Lady.

~Debi