IN THE MERRY-GO-ROUND of bring-a-dish events, I am not always great at deciding what to make. The past few months have seen a lot of me changing my mind on the day of the party. For fantasy football draft night, I bought all the ingredients for gougères (gruyère cheese puffs) and decided to make deviled eggs—more footbally—instead. For a big holiday party, I put my name down for grilled herbed chicken skewers, but the frigid temps had me backpedaling and I ended making mini chicken salad sandwiches—no standing in my parka over the grill. My most recent change of plans came the morning of Super Bowl Sunday, when I decided I wasn’t in the mood for frying and dropped the plan to make eggrolls, opting to make pizza buns instead.
My seesaw approach to planning is no big deal, mainly because I have a very understanding husband who is almost always willing to make an emergency run to the supermarket, and all most hosts care about is that I fulfill my promise to bring a platter full of food. The main problem is that I’m stuck with the ingredients for the dish I never made and I can’t convince my family that cheese puffs constitute dinner.
One of the guiding principles of my approach to dinner is that I can usually make a meal out of whatever is in my fridge and pantry plus a little imagination.The gruyère problem was an easy one. Dinner the next night was a gruyère-and-ham mac-and-cheese. The unused herb marinade for the chicken was easily turned into salad dressing, but the Chinese cabbage, marinated pork and shiitake mushrooms meant for the egg rolls was more of a challenge.
Then it came to me: Pork-roll filling is a lot like . . . Moo Shu Pork, so I started there. I had already marinated two pork tenderloins (in a mix of hoisin, soy sauce, honey, ginger, garlic and oil) and roasted them, so all I had to do was cut the cooked pork up into matchstick-like pieces. I julienned the cabbage, shiitakes, scallions and a carrot. Out came the giant sauté pan. First I beat a couple of eggs and scrambled them in a mix of canola and toasted sesame oil. I took the egg out of the pan, added a little more of the oils, and sautéed the vegetables until just tender. In went the cut-up pork, which I stir-fried with the vegetables just long enough to heat the meat up. I added the egg back in and the dish was ready to serve. Okay, the traditional pancakes were missing and I didn’t have any plum sauce, but I did have a pretty nice dinner and the refrigerator was cleared out. Mission accomplished.
—Stephanie Witt Sedgwick
LittleBird “Stephanie Cooks” supplies dinner inspiration every Monday.