Random Dinners: Ingredients

One thing that cookbook authors don’t usually think about is what the home cook can reasonably find in terms of ingredients.  If chile paste is what the recipe needs, then that’s what they’re going to put in the recipe and often they will offer no substitution.  Chile paste was one ingredient I had difficulty finding for this Asian Beef Noodle Salad recipe.  I also couldn’t find the noodles.  I ended up using rice noodles instead of the bean threads the recipe called for.  Our grocery store used to carry a good collection of asian ingredients, but now they mostly carry those dried meals that you just add water to.  And they do not taste good.  I found both the chile paste and the noodles at another store near one of the kid’s activities.  In my post Thanksgiving post, I lamented the sorry condition of the grocery stores in Mr. Geeky’s hometown, where you could barely find produce.  I wasn’t looking, but I’m sure you couldn’t find fresh herbs much less chile paste.

There are 2 stores where I’d be likely to find all kinds of bizarre ingredients–Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.  The problem with both is parking.  It is impossible to find parking at the Trader Joe’s.  It’s next to the Farmer’s Market and there’s enough parking, I’d guess for maybe 50 cars.  Way not enough.  Whole Foods has even less parking and the way the lot is configured means there’s a traffic jam upon exiting.  I swear my blood pressure goes up whenever I go to either place.  I think the solution for me is to actually write or call the store manager of my current store and tell him or her that I want more asian ingredients.  I’ll let you know how that works out.

There’s also the issue of seasonality.  Technically, I think, nothing is in season here as far as produce goes, so I’m buying red peppers, knowing that they at best come from California and at worst come from South America.  I don’t know which has the worst carbon footprint, but I think about it.  And then there’s the issue of quantity.  Fresh herbs at the grocery store come in huge bunches.  A recipe calls for 2 teaspoons.  You end up with tons of leftover dill or cilantro.  In my house, it gets thrown away eventually.  This has happened with lettuce and other produce that you have to buy in set quantities but of which you’re only using a small amount for a particular meal.  I’ve tried to use some of those ingredients in lunches or other meals and it’s worked to some degree, but still it’s an issue.  My solution for herbs is to plant them this spring.  I had rosemary, basil and mint.  I just need thyme, cilantro, and maybe a couple of others.  At the farmer’s market, produce comes in smaller packaging or no packaging.  I can get a sprig of lavender and not a whole bunch.  Lettuce heads are smaller and most produce can be bought singly (true in the grocery store too of most things).

This week’s recipes include some beef and pork, which I’ve ordered from the farm and I’ll be picking up on Wednesday.  Honestly, it’s not that much more expensive than the grocery store and I just feel a lot better about the product on many levels.  I wonder, once spring rolls around, how much of my shopping I can do from the farmer’s market.  If I organized my recipes by season, perhaps most of it.  Sounds like a good challenge!

6 Replies to “Random Dinners: Ingredients”

  1. You can freeze some of the herbs and that’s a half-way decent solution. I hear you on the “nothing’s in season” issue. We have bags of potatoes from local growers and that’s as close as we come to seasonal produce.

  2. I second the idea of freezing herbs–I buy a big bunch, wash/dry them and the freeze them. It’s pretty easy to grab what you need, even when it is frozen and they defrost quickly so you can chop them, if necessary.

    If you are talking about the TJs in Suburban Square–trying going on Monday or Tuesday when the Farmers Market is closed–it’s much easier to park. Also–TJs is open later (until 9pm) than the Farmers Market, but they are often out of certain items by then.

  3. I am indeed speaking of that TJ’s. I might try on a Monday–maybe today! I get so frustrated driving around that parking lot.

  4. Throw out your recipes!

    go to the farmers market

    buy the best looking veggies and stuff

    defrost some meat or chicken chunks from your freezer (that you froze on buthcer paper and moved to a large ziplock bag)

    look at the spices you have and decide what mix you want to make i.e. tomato based, brown sauce based, cheese/dairy based? white wine and lemon?

    then decide hot or mild? chile sauce or pepper sauce? white pepper/black pepper. rice wine vinegar or red wine ?

    then oil.. peanut? or olive? will you add extra virgin at the end or sesame?

    then chop everything accordingly and COOK!

    we don’t need no stinking receipes!!

  5. Yes, yes, yes, I know–but I’m cooking my way through a cookbook. And farmer’s market in the winter? There is none. So it’s all imported veggies and fruits.

    Just picked up my meat from the meat guy, though. 🙂

  6. inspired by a certain movie perhaps?

    I go to a shoprite in new jersey every month or two… pick up lettuce at a local deli-market when I run out. all the meat I cut up and freeze and carrots, celery etc will last a month or so.

    When I buy bagels I freeze them, or I make my own bread.

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