Chapter 2

In Which We Say, “You Must Cook a Lot of Fancy Food, Huh,” and Adam Responds

I like to cook, and I cook a lot – typically five or six nights a week. When people hear me say that, they often respond with, “you must cook a lot of fancy food, huh?” Quite honestly, no, I don’t.

Most of my cooking is about making a hot breakfast for myself, or making dinner for my wife and me. Our typical dinner is some form of meat, a starch, a vegetable, and maybe a “salad.” I use quotes because as often as not, our salad is nothing more than cut-up cucumbers and carrots with some dressing on the side for dipping. The vegetable is steamed green beans or snow peas or asparagus or broccoli or zucchini or even frozen peas or lima beans. If the meat doesn’t require much tending I might saute the zucchini in olive oil with some onions and garlic (and mushrooms, if there’s time). For a starch we usually have brown rice, with grits, quinoa, bulgur, mashed potatoes, corn (fresh in the summer, frozen the rest of the year), and sometimes barley making an appearance on a regular basis. Some meals (in particular, tacos-in-a-bowl) the starch is even more simple: store-bought corn chips. The meat is usually one or more pieces of beef (steak or “mince” or sometimes a roast), chicken, pork (chops or a roast), fish (fillets or steaks), or shrimp; it it’s warm enough outside I cook the meat on the grill, when it’s cold I cook it in a pan on the stove or in the oven/broiler. Fancy? Not yet.

There are a few recipes I make on a frequent basis. Some – hamburgers-in-a-bowl or tacos-in-a-bowl – are so simple I’ve never bothered to write down the ingredients or the procedure. Others – Ciopinno, “Portuguese-Inspired” Shrimp and Sausage – have at most a dozen ingredients (and that counts the salt and pepper and oil used for sauteing), take maybe an hour (prep time plus cooking), and require only the most basic of cooking skills. Fancy? I don’t think so.

Once in a while I pick an ingredient and build a recipe around it. A few nights ago it was garbanzos (or “chick peas,” if you prefer), and I made a very simple “stew”: garbanzos (of course), water, onions and garlic sauteed in olive oil, cumin, coriander, oregano, thyme, salt, and pepper. Cooked until the beans were soft and the broth had thickened, served on brown rice … it was a lovely (and simple) meal. Fancy? Only if you think cooking without a recipe qualifies (and I don’t think it does).

Do I ever cook fancy things? Sure: If we’re having company over, or if it’s a special occasion, or if we’re celebrating something. For a while we were doing this about every other month; these days it’s down to three or four times a year. So what do I cook for these meals? Most recently it was Beef Wellington with a madiera sauce; for an appetizer we had wild mushroom soup, and for dessert it was pears and dates and a nice blue cheese. A few years ago, when I wanted to really “put on the dog,” I made this menu. Fancy? Yes. In fact, very fancy.

A very quick (and horribly inaccurate) accounting shows that I cook about one fancy meal for every 25 “plain” meals. Is a few dozen fancy meals “a lot?” Maybe – but when compared to the 200 - 250 “plain” meals I cook every year, I think don’t think it’s very much at all.

Oh yes: I’ll post the recipe for my garbanzo stew as soon as I find a chance to type it in. Until them, here are my other recipes. I hope you find something there you like.

[Sunday, 07 February 2010]