I have come to the conclusion that cooking isn’t really very challenging – unless you specifically aim at gourmet recipes, of course – if you can almost always be assured of almost all ingredients, or at least, if it’s only a question of putting something on your next shopping list.
It isn’t very difficult to make a good dinner if you always have a chicken or a good part of beef. Salmon steaks are pretty hard to ruin, too. And your baked goodies, soups and pasta will almost always turn out well with plenty of butter, cream and cheese. And it’s really easy to make fancy desserts with copious amounts of whipped cream and chocolate.
It’s a lot more of a challenge to create a variety of healthy, tasty, satisfying meals from the simplest, most economical ingredients. If you use vegetables and fruit in their season, when they are best (and cheapest), things become even more interesting.
My mother-in-law cooks, and has always cooked, soup almost every day – mostly meatless, sometimes enriched with the bony parts of chicken or turkey. Her lentil soup and split pea soup are especially beloved. A bowl of such thick, savory soup is a meal in itself. I don’t cook soup nearly as often, but nevertheless we hardly eat meat during the week – or if we do, it makes for a supplementary part of the meal, such as bits of chicken breast with stir-fry veggies, served over noodles or rice.
Much of the meat I cook these days is made in the form of a stew with a lot of rich sauce that can be spooned on rice or pasta or soaked up with bread. For example, last Thursday I made beef stew. On Thursday evening, we ate couscous with some of the liquid part of the stew. On Friday night and Saturday we ate the beef. On Sunday I took what was left of the stew – mostly liquid and little chunks of meat that fell apart – and cooked it with some leftover rice for a few minutes. This made an excellent lunch, and a total of four days’ worth of meals – not too bad.
There was a time when bell peppers were so cheap that my husband brought home great full bags of them, and I made stuffed peppers almost every week. Then came a time when peppers got so expensive we did without any for maybe two months in a row. Nowadays I have just enough for fresh salads. Having any vegetables at my disposal at any time would be more convenient, no doubt, but there is also something nice in not having something, and looking forward to a time when you can have it again, and enjoy it all the more.