Wednesday, June 24, 2009

How to become a better cook

Cook with what is in season. That is the single thing that has transformed me from a pretty good cook to a most-of-the-time-great cook (if I do say so myself).

It started 8 or 9 years ago, when 2 things happened simultaneously. First, my family joined the Genesee Valley Organic CSA program, receiving fresh shares of produce throughout the summer and fall. Then, the natural foodstore where I shopped went out of business. Eventually through a lot of people's hard work, the store re-opened as a cooperative. In the meantime, a few people organized a buying club, renting out a small space in my neighborhood where we got staples and produce year-round, again much of it locally grown.

These days, eating local is all the rage, and you don't need special circumstances to do it. For me, I now grow a lot of my own food and get the rest from our three-year-old local farmers market.

Either way, using what I have readily available forces creativity in the kitchen. It's hard to follow a recipe precisely if you stick with what you have in the pantry/garden/market. That single fact forced me out of my cooking comfort zone and got me to experiment and improvise much more in the kitchen. Now I understand the characteristics of individual ingredients/herbs/spices and have a sense of how they might go together, although I still use cookbooks to give me new ideas and inspiration.

Last night I made a Wild Rice Salad with Asparagus, Feta,Walnuts,and Strawberries, loosely inspired by this recipe.

I can't give exact amounts (since I didn't keep track!), but here are the general instructions.

1. Cook up some wild rice. (I use a rice cooker and love it.)
2. Cut up your asparagus and steam if for 1-2 minutes. You want it to stay crunchy.
3. Mix together, along with some feta cheese and toasted walnuts.
4. Mix in John Robbins' tahini dressing from May All Be Fed. (This is my all-purpose salad dressing, and I used it in a slightly different way here.)
4. Give it a little more "juice" with some good quality olive oil and a few dashes of balsamic vinaigrette. My favorite balsamic is from Artistic Eats and my favorite to-die-for olive oil is from VM Giordano's, both available at the Rochester Public Market.
5. Serve with sliced strawberries on top.

1 comment:

Kathryn J said...

That looks delicious. So you aren't doing CSA anymore? I see you often enough that I hadn't noticed you missing there.

Your garden is also lovely.


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