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Cooking with Joy

Welcome to a New Approach to Cooking


By Joy Rotondi

What should you expect to find on my pages? Tips. Clues. New ways of thinking about food and getting it on the table. Or into the lunchbox.

How would you like to refresh your usual supermarket shopping list? (We all get into food ruts. Let's break out.) Why is a frozen pie crust a cooks best friend? (A few eggs, almost any combination of cheese, a little liquid dairy and you've got a quiche ready for the oven inside of 10 minutes.) Run out of bread for the lunchtime sandwich? (Pack roll ups.) What side dishes might you easily have on hand? (Keep a can of asparagus spears in the fridge. Dress with a light vinaigrette and some chopped sweet onion and you have an elegant accompaniment to tonight's supper.)

Im the cook at my house in a small town on Bostons North Shore. I also teach sixth grade, and therein lies the problem. Im not sure which is more of a challenge. Both are performance-based jobs and the audience is tough and unpredictable. Heaven help me if I over-salt the beans.

To say Im the cook is a poor choice of words, and those of you who fall in this category understand why I say that. Im actually the Head of Food Service. Executive Chef (Whats for dinner? Lunch? Breakfast? Dare I mention snacks?). Purveyor (list maker and food shopper). Pantry Fairy (Mom, do we have any mini-chocolate chips?). Nutritionist. Farmer. Food Nag. Chief of Protocol. Enforcer of Etiquette. Arbiter of Good Taste. Bookkeeper. And all too often, Bottle Washer.

Somewhere in there, I find the time to cook.

If you fill these shoes, too, Im writing for you. If you are support staff to these positions, or the lucky recipient of all this devotion, please pass this along to the chef.

What distinguishes my cooking? Ingenuity. Im known for whipping up something delicious out of very little. My best friend calls me The Pantry Queen. What looks like a wasteland to her is a challenge to me and a great meal comes of it.

That said, I rarely use processed food. Canned food -- especially vegetables and fruit -- yes. I use that. Hamburger Helper? Hold your tongue. But whenever possible, I use fresh, organic, locally grown produce, and small portions of meat, though meat neednt be the centerpiece of every meal. I do admit to an extensive, alphabetized herb and spice collection. I garden, so from late spring to late fall I feature what I pull out of my small raised bed. And Im fortunate to have a child who raises chickens. We love the dog, but he does not lay eggs.

Recipes? Some, but your world is glutted with recipes. Im more interested in sharing formulas for cooking, ways of thinking about a dish and a meal as a whole. I call them unrecipes. The usual recipe, with a set list of ingredients and measurements and pan sizes and time specifics, lock the cook down. Unless youre supremely confident -- and experienced -- youll try to fulfill the recipe. Thats stressful and unnecessary. I hope to boost your confidence in cooking on short order with whats on hand. Day in and day out.

Recipes are a luxury I reserve for weekends and company. When I have that extra bit of time or the motivation of guests, I enjoy sitting with a stack of cookbooks or surfing the Internet for a new dish. Ill dutifully make my shopping list and head to the store. But on a school night? You have got to be kidding.

If I can help you restock the pantry, shop efficiently, jazz up the lunchbox, and widen the variety of what you eat, Ill deserve a shiny apple on my desk. If I can release your bond to recipes, inspire you to try new tasty food combos, or teach you shortcuts worth taking, I get a star. Together, lets rethink everyday food.

(Next month: The first of a two-part pantry primer.)