Friday, May 08, 2009

What is basic cooking?

I've been doing basic cooking here in California -- at least, I call it basic. I try to buy the best meat and produce that I can. I've tried and liked the two kinds of chicken that were top-rated in this week's L.A.Times story, one from Whole Foods, one from Trader Joe's. But I just cook basic meat and vegetables.

I shop at the farmer's market sometimes, and sometimes at a very nice little produce stand just outside Trader Joe's. The photos of it highlight the strawberries they've had -- very nice. They have lots of vegetables and other fruit too, even some dried fruit like local apricots. Usually, there are two guys waiting on the customers. They seem to be Mexicans. Many of the selections are labeled as local and pesticide-free. The lemons, for instance, look as if they came from a tree in someone's garden, varying in size and shape quite a lot more than supermarket lemons. The price is 4 for a dollar for small, 2 for a dollar for large. The first cherries of the season -- some not quite perfectly ripe, but very good -- were $3 a pound, quite a contrast to Michigan.

Tonight I think our dinner was basic. We had snow peas, onions, and tomatoes from that produce stand: I stir-fried the onion, then the snow peas, added a little soy sauce, and put in the tomato just long enough to warm it up. Also there was a mango, which wasn't local -- it was from Mexico. True, Mexico is only 30 miles down route 5, but I think the mango had to go a longer distance to get here.

Our meat tonight was chicken breasts from Trader Joe's, which I sliced thin, breaded, and fried. Last night we had lamb chops from TJ and corn on the cob from the produce stand. Another basic dinner we have often is based on salads, or vegetarian pasta made from canned tomatoes.

I haven't ever even assembled and used the numerous food processors that come with the condo. I mainly broil or pan-fry the meat, and sometimes steam the vegetables or stir-fry them like tonight. I roasted the chickens that turned out to be approved by the LA Times (that was a while back -- the condo is equipped with a really nice roasting pan). Last night I cut up the lamb chops, which were quite large, and coated them with really basic bbq sauce out of ketchup, sugar, garlic and a couple other dribbles of stuff.

I love to read about more complicated recipes but I'm just not in the mood to try them. It's not because of a lack of recipes, either -- the web is full of thousands of recipes. And I've bought a number of spices in small packets, which I use in conventional combinations to flavor my basic food. I just don't feel like cooking much, just feel like eating basic vegetables, fruit, and meat.

Basic cooking to me means using basic ingredients and making things very quickly. I find it amusing that there's a cookbook about cooking food from Trader Joe's -- the author was going to appear at the bookstore where it was on display. (An search actually comes up with 2 or 3 such books, maybe including the one I saw, maybe not.) Most Trader Joe's food needs only warming up. Anyway, if you like something from TJ's you better buy 3 because they don't consistently stock any particular item. So following the recipes sounds pretty challenging. And the result might not be very basic.

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