Creative Stir-Fry for a Weeknight

It’s time to stop overthinking dinner. Stop thinking you need to follow a recipe to the letter of the law. First things first. Relax, it’s just dinner. Start with what is on hand. I had snap peas and French beans in the fridge as well as leftover steamed carrots and broccoli.

Getting started with French beans in the pan with garlic, ginger and green onions
Getting started with French beans in the pan with garlic, ginger and green onions

This veggie array was perfect for a stir fry, but peering into the pantry, I realized we don’t have any soy sauce. But, I did have Worcestershire sauce, sesame oil and Marie Sharp’s “exotic sauce,” a pepper sauce from Belize. The exotic sauce is made from green mangoes, tamarind, raisins, ginger, sugar, vinegar, onions, garlic, habanero pepper and some undisclosed spices. I figured this would take a different path than soy sauce, but paired with Worcestershire could work as a substitute. Departing from soy sauce gave me the freedom to work in other flavors, which I did with liberal sprinkling of garam masala, Madras curry and coriander. How did I pull this all together? The first thing was to finely chop a few cloves of garlic, a few sprigs of green onion, and a pinky’s length of fresh ginger root, and sauté those in a large pan with sesame oil on medium heat. Then, I piled in the veggies. I let them fry up a bit, but at this point, I wanted to add a broth and placed bouillon in a Pyrex cup with water. Next, I poured the instant broth into the pot with the veggies. Then, I got started with the powdered spices (coriander, garam masala, curry) and the Worcestershire and exotic sauces. Now, I had a pot of beautifully flavored vegetables steaming up with a hot broth.

Veggies cooking in broth with spices
Veggies and meat cooking in broth with spices

This was the perfect time to stir in meat. I had tenderized venison on hand, which I had sliced into small pieces. The meat cooked very quickly and maintained moisture with a lid on the pan. Meanwhile, I had cooked quick brown rice. The upshot is dinner came together with relative ease and in short order. The cooking was enjoyable as I smelled the aromas of the different spices, which was therapeutic. The bright colors of the vegetables were aesthetically pleasing. The approach was simple: what do I have? My quick survey ensured I had veggies, spices, meat and rice. To lay the foundation of the meal, I sautéed garlic and onion in oil (in this case, with minced ginger). Then, I added veggies and spice. Next, broth, and finally meat. That’s only a few steps to a beautiful and balanced meal. I do have a confession: I added salt when the meat was cooking.

Quick dinner with veggies, meat and rice
Quick dinner with veggies, meat and rice

In review, there are really just a few steps to making a great dinner on a weeknight:

  1. take an inventory of what you have and make a plan
  2. start anything good by sautéing garlic in oil in a pan
  3. add spices and veggies
  4. opt whether to add meat and/or rice or pasta, etc.
  5. eat, and proceed to enjoy the rest of the evening

Consider that all of this came together in less than the time it would have taken a pizza delivery to bring us something relatively unhealthy and over-priced. (Not that there’s anything wrong with the occasional pizza.) There also is the satisfaction of knowing you can pull together a home-cooked meal with a little creativity in no time. The best part of all was this meal was absolutely delicious and provided wonderful leftovers for lunch. Before you despair that you have nothing for dinner, take a longer look in the fridge and pantry and get creative!

The Sage Leopard

Appetizers reborn in pasta with veggies & prosciutto

What to do with the leftover crudités and a package of prosciutto from Super Bowl Sunday? Pasta. Pasta is the answer to many of life’s questions.

Sautéing garlic and prosciutto
Sautéing garlic and prosciutto

I sautéed the prosciutto in olive oil and garlic, then splashed in a little Chardonnay. Next, I folded in chopped celery and peppers. Once those softened and melded, I added parboiled broccoli and carrots, after slicing through them a bit.  At this point, I added a pat of butter as well as salt and pepper. While that cooked on low, I brought a pot of water to a boil for a half package of rotini.

Veggie pasta (shhh, it's from leftovers)
Veggie pasta (shhh, it’s from leftovers)

The meal came together with shredded parmesan and chopped parsley. This is my favorite kind of food: brightly colored, cheesy and over pasta.

The Sage Leopard

Find Your Holiday Balancing Act with Take-It-Easy Meals

Christmas 2015 is in the books. Yet, there is still New Year’s and any additional Christmas gatherings you may have in the interim. We still have another family gathering for a special dinner tomorrow night. As I write, I am fending off an inclination to walk back over to the cookies and chocolates beckoning from the countertop. This time of year requires balance in our cooking and I find that eating simple outside of entertaining keeps me feeling centered. Here are a couple of recent dinners fixed between the more extravagant meals eaten around the holidays. (I cannot believe how creamy an over-the-top oyster mushrooms pasta dish was at a restaurant the other night. Geesh.) We had pork chops with grilled green tomatoes,

spinach atop garlic and olive oil before being covered to cook

and another night we had grilled salmon with baked potatoes. The grilled green tomatoes are a new favorite. Cooking sliced green tomatoes on an indoor grill really brings their flavor to life, especially in the winter. Another go-to dish to bring everything together is sautéed spinach. Start per usual for sautéed veggies by cooking sliced garlic in olive oil on low. Once the garlic is gold, add spinach (straight from a bag) and a pinch of salt, then cover. About 5-7 minutes later, you should have soft, garlic-y spinach ready to plate. The salmon was in a special weeknight display at the grocery store, which served as a reminder to try to eat a little healthy at this time of year. Granted, it was served with twice-baked potatoes. The cheesy potatoes may just offset the healthiness of the salmon, but that’s OK. That’s kind of the point of the salmon. For the potatoes, I first baked them an hour at 375 degrees.

baked potatoes dressed with paprika and spinach

Then I scooped out the middles and placed that potato meat in a bowl with grated parmesan cheese, a dollop of sour cream and spices. I spread that mixture back into the potato shells and broiled them until the tops took on a nice crust.


don't forget salad
don’t forget salad

To further ensure you are getting enough vegetables, make a simple salad. Romaine, bell pepper, tomatoes and green onions are easy to gather, chop and toss with any dressing you like, and complement any number of meats or fish.