The flip-side of eating what you have--in your garden, in your fridge, in your pantry--is NOT eating what you don't have.
My sister-in-law, who hates to cook, is now the cook for her own family of two (her child is away at college) and for her father, who lives nearby. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, she probably spends ten times as much time cooking as I do, and I like to cook. During our last visit, she made an eggplant stew with polenta topping. Delicious. She also made a salad with shallot dressing. Delicious.
Both recipes were clipped from the newspaper and she followed them to the letter. She made a shopping trip in the morning to amass the ingredients. At dinner time, she discovered that she had forgotten to buy a shallot. I suggested that she use a garlic clove or chopped scallions, both of which were in the house. This was not acceptable. She sent her daughter off to get the shallot and she returned, twenty or so minutes later, with a shallot.
Each meal starts similarly starts from scratch. Shopping and cooking take a long time.
I, by contrast, am a lazy-ish cook. Tonight I made a potato pie from the potatoes and caramelized onions I had. I added some eggs and sour cream and topped with breadcrumbs and then baked in my trusty toaster oven. Total prep time--10 minutes. Baking--around 40 minutes. Of course, we had some greens with it!
An Italian peasant--from the scenario recounted in yesterday's post--would surely not make a trip to buy a shallot.
Of course, it has taken me years to get lazy. Like many people my age, I learned to cook from cookbooks, laboriously following Julia Child's recipes, perspiring all the while.
But there does seem to be a change afoot. The Wall Street Journal, whose food articles are often very good, had a piece yesterday on improvisational cooking. The piece featured cooks who urge us to figure out how to use what we have--
Among them: Marc Matsumoto, a freelance writer and marketing consultant, who launched the Web site NoRecipes.com a year ago. The site's motto: "No recipes: Cooking is more fun without them." Mr. Matsumoto focuses on technique and inspiration, rather than detailed instructions, when he writes about his off-the-cuff creations that include spicy lemongrass soft-shell crab, and shrimp and duck gumbo.
Lest it seem that my ego is running amok here, let me say that my sister-in-law is an excellent housekeeper, who probably looks with horror at my inefficient and futile efforts in that department. I probably spend more time than she does at housekeeping and, trust me, my house looks a lot worse than hers does. If only we lived near each other! I'd be happy to do all the cooking and I hope she would help me out with my weak spots.
Dear Readers: any tips for improvisational cooking? How do you make one meal into more? Any clever substitutions? Do share.