While we're on the subject of ingredients, I thought I'd talk a bit about menu planning and cooking from ingredients. In the old days, when recipes were my starting point, I would spend about an hour flipping through cookbooks and recipe files until I came up with 5 or 6 entrees that I was in the mood to eat that week. Next I made a list of every ingredient they called for, and then I spent a couple hours at the grocery store, going up and down every aisle, loading my cart with every ingredient, and tossing in a head of iceberg lettuce, a bottle of ranch dressing, ketchup, and a few cans of vegetables to use as sides, plus things like boxed cereals, instant mac an cheese, bottled minced garlic, frozen chopped onions, and any other "convenience" products I could get my hands on. But even with those products, cooking was never convenient, grocery shopping was an ordeal, and huge amounts of food got wasted, either as ingredients that didn't get used before they went bad, or as leftovers we never bothered to eat.

Now, compare that to what I did this week. After picking up my Bountiful Sprout order, I spent five minutes listing everything I got, what was coming ripe in the garden, and what was in the fridge or pantry that should be used up soon. The lists looked like this:
TBS - peaches, blackberries, beets, zucchini, onions, fingerling potatoes, cucumbers, focaccia, tortillas.
Garden - a few green beans, cherry and roma tomatoes
Larder - a jar of roasted tomatoes in olive oil and garlic (made from last week's romas), Gourmet Texas Pasta from the farmers' market, feta, goat cheese, eggs, vanilla ice cream, and some leftover pork stew that I froze.

Now, the trick to making all this work is having a few basic recipes in your arsenal that adapt well to a variety of ingredients, depending on what's available. Mine includes a Provencal salad, which usually starts with boiled new potatoes and green beans, adding some cherry tomatoes, capers and kalamata olives, dressing it with a homemade vinaigrette, and topping it all with a bit of canned tuna and quartered hard boiled egg. But, if I have leftover roast chicken, I can substitute that for the tuna, or if tomatoes aren't in season, I might use sundried tomatoes or roasted peppers. Often I toss in some chunks of feta, if I have it on hand.

Another standby is roasted veggies. I LOVE roasted veggies. All kinds of roasted veggies. Roasting is like flavor magic when it comes to veggies. The basic drill is to cut them into uniform bits, toss them in olive oil and a bit of sea salt, spread them out over one or two sheet pans (don't crowd them or you just end up with bland steamed veggies, with none of that gooey, crispy, carameley concentrated goodness) and bake at 400 F. until spotted with brown patches and easily pierced with fork. Often I combine two or three different veggies, sometimes tossing in some peeled cloves of garlic, and topping all with freshly grated parmesan when it comes from the oven. With the beets, I washed and trimmed them, leaving on an inch of stem, wrapped them tightly in a foil packet, roasted them for almost an hour, quartered them and let them cool slightly then slipped off the skins, and dressed them with a bit of olive oil, a splash of red wine vinegar, sea salt and fresh ground pepper, and tossed in some crumbled goat cheese.

So, from the lists above, here's what I managed to plan out in less than 15 minutes, without needing a trip to the grocery store at all, other than to replace staples:

Wed. - pasta with Cafe' Lago's roasted tomato sauce, Greek salad, focaccia, peaches and blackberries with icecream or yogurt
Thurs. - Provencal salad, roasted beets, fruit, tortilla
Fri. - toasted focaccia spread with goat cheese and topped with roasted tomatoes, fried zucchini strings, fruit
Houston - take leftovers, pork stew, make a cucumber/onion salad, eat out one night
Mon. - zucchini fritatta, roasted or braised fingerling potatoes, tortilla

Not bad, eh?
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Reviewed by juragan asem
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Rating : 4.5