This week, I’m offering a couple of healthy recipes to help with breaking up the string of heavy meals that often accompany the holidays. This duo is blissfully simple to prepare, as well as practical and economical. Both recipes can be prepped ahead, then finished in a matter of minutes. They are perfect at the end of a work day or after a day of Christmas shopping. Leftovers can be popped into containers and carried off for lunch the next day.

Stir-fry with beef is one of those recipes you will want to tinker with and make your own. A few dashes of bottled stir-fry sauce can be used if you’re really in a hurry, and thawed frozen broccoli can be substituted — just take a minute or two off the cooking time. And if you’re one of those self-disciplined people on a low-carb diet, like it seems half my friends are, but not me, the stir-fry can be served on its own or over riced cauliflower, which I have to say, is better than it sounds.

The Pad Thai can even be made with spiralized zucchini — crazy but true. Just sauté the veggie spirals until they’re tender, then proceed with the recipe as written. I prefer shrimp with my Pad Thai, but you can add whatever tastes good to you, including more vegetables like carrots, green beans or peas. Garnishing with chopped peanuts is traditional, but toasted sesame seeds or slivered almonds also add the right amount of crunch to these slithery noodles.

During the next few weeks, I’ll be tucking cookie recipes into the column that are appropriate for holiday giving and toting along to celebratory gatherings. These almond cookies are just a sample of a long-standing tradition. In years gone by, I was the queen of Christmas cookies. It was nothing for me to whip up 20 to 30 different varieties between Thanksgiving Day and Dec. 25.

Since then, I’ve come to my senses and calmed down quite a bit, not to mention that I have three daughters and two granddaughters who now share in the cookie-baking chaos. We each make our favorites and have a cookie swap, which I highly recommend to one and all.

On that note, remember that you don’t need to be a super hero during the holidays. Or ever. Relax, breathe and take time to enjoy the precious present of this beautiful season.

Stir-fry with Beef
Marinade:

3 large cloves garlic, minced

3-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced

2 tbsp. oil

2 tbsp. soy sauce

1 tbsp. rice vinegar

Stir-fry:

2 tbsp. sesame or peanut oil

1/2 pound sirloin tip steak, cut into very thin strips

1 head broccoli, cut into florets

2 colored peppers, julienned

3 scallions, chopped

Finishing Sauce:

2 tbsp. soy sauce

2 tbsp. orange juice

1 tsp. fish sauce

2 tbsp. corn starch

4 cups cooked rice

Place garlic, ginger, oil, soy sauce and vinegar in a quart-size zip-top bag. Add the steak and shake to coat the meat with marinade. Allow to marinate for at least 30 minutes.

In a small glass measuring cup, combine soy sauce, orange juice, fish sauce and cornstarch. Set aside.

Add oil to large skillet or wok and heat over medium heat. Add broccoli and cook for 3 minutes. Add beef with marinade and cook for 5 minutes. Add pepper strips and onions and cook for 2-3 more minutes. Serve with rice. Yield: 4 servings

Kitchen Pad Thai
8 oz. Pad Thai noodles

2 tbsp. vegetable oil

3 large cloves garlic, minced

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

3 tbsp. soy sauce

4 tbsp. lime juice (2 medium limes)

5 tbsp. brown sugar

2 tsp. fish sauce

Red pepper flakes, to taste

3 scallions, chopped

1/2 cup cilantro leaves, chopped

1/3 cup peanuts, chopped

1/2 lb. cooked shrimp, chicken, pork, or marinated tofu or tempeh (optional)

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and add noodles. Take off heat and allow to stand for 7-10 minutes or until tender. Drain noodles and set aside.

In a small glass measuring cup, stir together soy sauce, lime juice, sugar, fish sauce and pepper flakes. Set aside.

In large skillet or wok, heat oil over medium heat. Add garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add eggs to skillet and cook gently until just solidified. Remove skillet from heat.

Add sauce and protein component, if using. Toss gently. Garnish servings with scallions, cilantro, peanuts, and more pepper flakes. Yield: 4 servings

Almond Cookies
1 cup butter

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 egg

1 tsp. almond extract

1/2 tsp. vanilla

3 cups flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 cup unsalted roasted almonds, chopped

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg, almond extract and vanilla; mix well.

Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Gradually add dry ingredients to butter mixture.

Roll dough about 1/4-inch thick on lightly floured surface. Cut with 2-inch cookie cutter. Place about 2 inches apart on greased baking sheets. Sprinkle with almonds and press them lightly into the tops of the cookies.

Bake for 15 minutes or until golden. Remove from baking sheets and cool on racks. Yield 4 dozen

Karen Schneider can be reached at [email protected]