By SHANNON WATKINS
So you dragged home through yet MORE snow (and I’m out of jokes about the weather, sorry; I’m out of patience with it as well and frankly my sanity supplies are running a little low while we’re on the subject) and looked in the fridge and there’s not much of any one thing to make a meal of, and you’re too broke to go out even if you had the inclination, and oh my Lord, you’re tired.
Let’s say there’s other people, especially small, young ones, dancing around with hunger and impatience. Pizza will get mentioned repeatedly and just as quickly nixed; you’re not made of money, for Pete’s sake, which pronouncement will be met with dark looks suggesting that if you really LOVED them, you would be. Then someone brightly suggests ordering Chinese, which everyone equally loves but is also right out of the budget for this week, and there are more dark looks.
You would certainly like to order Chinese food, you think. What you would really like is to have a maid draw you a bathtub full of warm fried rice and then climb into it and eat until you fall asleep knowing a trained professional you can somehow magically afford is handling the homework and babysitting, but unfortunately it again comes down, as it always does, to you.
So you start pulling out odds and ends from the fridge – maybe some chicken still sitting around, maybe a few slices of roast pork, maybe some crumbled ground beef that never made it into your Sloppy Joe sauce – and a bag of frozen veggies in one of those handy steam-in-the-microwave bags, and then you do have some rice you can make up in a big pot; you can sort of pretend it’s Chinese if you put soy sauce on everything, right?
The good news is that while you may indeed be marooned without egg rolls or fortune cookies, you can conjure up a basic and ingredient-heavy fried rice without a lot of fuss or going very far out of your way. It may become one of your favored methods for getting rid of leftovers; their recurrence on everyone’s plate will start incurring squeals of delight rather than sighs of resignation.
Stir Fry Sauce
2-3 Tbsps. cornstarch
¼ c. brown sugar
¼ tsp ground ginger
2 cloves minced garlic
½ c. soy sauce or tamari sauce (preferably low-sodium)
¼ c. cider, white or rice vinegar
½ c. water
1 can chicken or beef stock (preferably also low-sodium)
Put all ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake until combined. If you make it in advance and use later, you may have to shake it again, as the cornstarch has a tendency to settle on the bottom.
Now chop a mediumish-sized onion into slightly large dice while your largest skillet is getting primed for cooking over medium-high heat. Cut your leftover meats into bite-sized pieces and tear open the steamed bag of veggies (or cold veggies from the fridge, if you’d rather). Come to think of it, pull out your eggs and beat two or three very well in a small bowl.
Once the skillet’s ready, pour in maybe a tablespoon of vegetable oil (or sesame oil, if you have it) and toss in the onion, dashing on about a tablespoon of your sauce, too. It will sputter madly, which is your cue to chase it rapidly around the pan with a spatula or spoon; it’s going to cook fairly quickly. After 2-3 minutes, scoot the onion to one side and toss in the veggies with a little more of the sauce. Chase them around in the skillet as well for 2-3 minutes. Scoot them to the side as well and pour the eggs in, which will spread out to form a very thin puddle and start cooking almost immediately. Chop it quickly into little bits with the edge of your spatula and stir it around; this will cook in less than a minute. Scoot it aside as well and toss in the meats with a little more of the sauce. Move them around for just a little to get the taste of the sauce on them and then pour in your rice (about 4-6 cups) and add as much of the rest of the sauce as you like. Stir and toss gently so everything is mixed into the rice. Let sizzle for a couple of minutes as you stir (you can leave a bit on the bottom undisturbed for extra crunch, but monitor it closely) and then remove from the heat and serve.
The hardest part, really, is chopping the onion and mincing the garlic. The rice can be difficult if you’re not used to making it often, but cheating with a boil-in-the-bag variety is hardly beyond the bounds of acceptable behavior, especially if you’re tired and in a hurry.
It will take about two bites before everyone decides that this was a very good decision and they’re glad they thought of it, and in about five more minutes you’ll be surrounded by gleaming plates. If anyone demands fortune cookies, distribute an Oreo apiece and tell them you can read their fortunes in the crème once they twist the cookies open. A ring of little hands will thrust chocolate wafers into your face.
“It says, ‘They who do their homework on time will go far,’” you announce. “Time to start on that.” After any obligatory grumbling is gotten out of the way, your tutorial skills are brought to bear on word problems and vocabulary and various world capitals. After that, TV, baths and bedtime.
Cleanup, thankfully, isn’t as fearsome as you’d thought it would be. Is there any of that rice left? That’s OK, you can always make more. Maybe, you wonder idly, if you double the recipe, you’d at least have enough to come halfway up the tub?