Thursday, June 30, 2011

Wrap up: Simple Cooking

During our 3 weeks in Aspen (we leave Sunday), I've been paying a lot of attention to the contrast between elaborate restaurant meals and simple, more healthful home cooking -- as I've mentioned. When we arrived, I set myself a challenge: to cook without many condiments, spices, and extra ingredients; that is, I've been trying to buy only plain, unprocessed foods that are intended to be eaten at one or two meals. I'm avoiding a lot of food that normally remains on the shelf or in the refrigerator and would go to waste when I leave. Even peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches or hot dogs with crisp rolls and mustard qualify for my simple fare.

Here are a few things I've done. One night, I flavored pan-fried lamb sirloin with strips of red pepper, and served it with mustard, a few tomato wedges and sprigs of cilantro, and a side of steamed broccoli.

For dessert we ate fruit: cut-up cantaloupe, and strawberries. The cantaloupe was unadorned, but I glazed the berries with a mixture of 1/3 cup apricot jam (initially destined for PB&J) and 2 tablespoons of my wonderful wine vinegar made from Italian Pinot Grigio. I heated the glaze in a pyrex cup in the microwave so that it would melt together and be able to coat the strawberries. Sugar would be easier -- but bulk items like sugar or flour weren't on my very short list of pantry staples.

Another day, I made meatballs with sweet-sour sauce from some moderately low-fat ground beef.

To make the meatball mixture, I had no flour or prepared bread crumbs, but I crushed a few AkMak sesame crackers to serve that purpose. Besides fixing the texture, this gave the meat balls a bit of sesame flavor. Other ingredients: an egg, some chopped onion, and of course my Spanish smoked paprika and Trader Joe's salt, the two trusty spices I brought with me. The meatball mixture also had a tablespoon or two of the sweet-sour sauce I made. In this: a can of prepared organic tomato sauce, a drizzle of my wonderful vinegar, a shake of salt and paprika, and 2 purloined packets of brown sugar from a cafe (yes, that's cheating, I know, but I did buy a cup of coffee). I sauteed the meatballs in a bit of olive oil and added the sauce, which I'd heated in the microwave. Garnish again: tomato and fresh cilantro. On the side: fresh pineapple chunks also from the supermarket.

Not all restaurant cooking is that much different, though it frequently has considerably more added fat and salt. Here is an admittedly delicious restaurant salad at Mezzaluna restaurant that wasn't that much more complex than my concoctions:

The restaurant salad did contain quite a few more ingredients than most of my productions. The price was also a lot higher than cooking at home -- the overwhelming cost of restaurant meals is another motivating factor here in Aspen more than most places.


Jeanie said...

I'd say you achieved your goal -- and it all looks delicious!

Anonymous said...

I think I would say that too :) Looks good. Would you mind if I included it with the recipes on They always love more recipe ideas like this :) and i think the community there would love it :)

Mae Travels said...

Anyone is free to republish my recipes. I'd like a link back if you do.