Last night, DH said I was a good cook...I told him it was easy because we're sticklers about good ingredients. It's easy to make a good salad when the field greens were picked days earlier, or the heirloom tomatoes are ripe and begging to be eaten. Too easy.
Having the best ingredients is the key to being a good cook. When it comes to cooking, you really can't make a silk purse from a sow's ear. You need good stuff to make good stuff. It doesn't mean you have to wander the grocery store aisles with the haughty disdain if a snob-like purist, but you do need an awareness of the quality of the food you're using.
I think of cooking as writing a paper. The main ingredient of a dish is the thesis statement. It should be clear and to the point. To achieve that clarity, I make sure that some part the ingredient is in the purest form I can afford. This means, if I am making a tomato sauce, I make sure that there are some real tomatoes incorporated in it...canned tomatoes are fine (in fact, they're often tastier), just use canned tomatoes that indeed contain tomatoes. The least processed tend to be better. I buy the whole canned tomatoes and dice or smash them myself. I am not adverse to using jar tomato sauce--I love Newman's Own or Trader Joe's Vodka Sauce, I just add tomatoes to make it...uhmm, more 'real'.
The least processed is best for all food, I find. I prefer organic. 80% of all we eat is organic. I am not a fanatic, but organic ingredients really do taste better. My rule for fruits and vegetables is that if we don't peel it before we eat it, it has to be organic.
Living in the Bay Area makes this easy. Sundays, DH and I wake early to hit the Farmer's Market to buy our produce for the week. Those of you in Oakland, check out the Temescal Farmer's Market over off of College Avenue, Sunday mornings 9 to 12. We have been regulars at the market forever. It's crowded, the music is great, and the selection...well, for the basics, is pretty good. I wish it had more of an ethnic vibe...it's pretty anglo yuppy...but at least, most of the produce is certified organic. We always leave with two large shopping bags full of produce and bread, and pastries...best bakeries...
Shopping this way has changed how I cook in a lot of ways. For one, I am much more aware of the seasons. Right now, corn in gone, as are the peaches and blueberries. I read once in a Macrobiotic cookbook that one of the hallmarks of healthy eating is eating seasonally. It makes sense. Before transportation, people ate according to what was available as the growing seasons changed. Now, with globalization, we eat summer foods all year around. I don't think this is good for us. I know that eating food shipped from South America isn't healthy for the environment...talk about carbon footprint! If you consider how much petroleum it took to bring those blueberries to you for your winter meal, it's hard to justifty (for me, anyway) their purchase. Plus, chances are, they won't be as sweet as the one's we buy in June. I'll wait. The sweetness of the local one's are worth the wait.
Off of soapbox.
Dinner last night....toasted brown rice with shiitaki mushrooms
I love brown rice. I love it's nutty full flavor. To increase that nutty flavor here's what I do:
Toasted Brown Rice (serves 2)
1 cup of brown rice--use long grain
2 tbl of olive oil
2 cups of beef broth
2 tbl of dried minced onion
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tbl minced, peeled ginger or a squirt from a tube of Gourmet Gardens
1/2 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
1 cup frozen shelled edamame, thawed--fresh is better
4 scallions, or small bunch of chives thinly sliced on the diagonal
fresh lime juice--1 lime
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/4 tsp of sesame oil
if you have some, 1 container of fresh shiitaki mushrooms. Remove the stems--they tend to be too woody. Rough chop the caps.
- In a sturdy pot, heat the oil until it shimmers
- Add the rice, stir to toast -- you'll know when you start to smell the rice toast
- Once toasted, add the broth, mushrooms, and minced onions and edamame.
- Bring the rice to a boil, then quickly reduce the heat to a low simmer, cover with a tight fitting lid.
- Keep covered as it cooks for about 30 minutes.
- Before serving, toss with the soy sauce and sesame oil, a squeeze of lime and top with the chopped onions.