Shopping is Cooking

October 8, 2013 | By | COMMENTS

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When you’re having friends over for dinner at 7:30, and it’s getting on in the day, time grows precious and you have to prioritize. Do you spend it shopping or do you spend it cooking? More often than not, I spend it cooking. My usual cooking routine goes: rush to Gelson’s, gather up overpriced ingredients, hurry home, make the dessert, assemble the entree, get things ready for the appetizer and drink a glass of wine while listening to “The Music Man” just as the guests show up. But last week I changed my dinner party strategy. Instead of spending most of my time in the kitchen, I spent it on the road, gathering up great ingredients to see if it made a difference. And you know what? It totally did. That strategy yielded better results than if I’d spent that same time stirring over a stove. Here’s why.

First of all, shopping for better ingredients lends your dinner a narrative. “This cheese came from the Cheese Store of Silverlake,” I told my guests. “It comes from Oregon. It’s called Caveman Blue.”

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Sounding a bit like a Portlandia sketch, I went on: “The apples come from the Atwater Village farmer’s market. The arugula comes from Atwater Village Farm.”

That, actually, might get a bit tedious but here’s the truth: I didn’t need to say anything because this salad spoke beautifully for itself. Those top notch ingredients were so much better than if I’d bought the apples, arugula and blue cheese from Gelson’s. (Quick recipe: slice fennel and apples thinly, toss with arugula, olive oil, white wine vinegar, salt and pepper and top with a slab of blue cheese.) Oh and that blue cheese was totally, life-changingly amazing: rich and creamy with electric zips of salinity.

The other nice thing about taking the time to shop is you might surprise yourself along the way. Next door to the Cheese Store of Silverlake is a flower shop. I went in there and the nice woman there told me that she was in love with the rose hips. “Ok,” I said, a little confused. Then she pointed to these flowers with little red balls at the top. I bought three branches for $3 each and put them at the center of the table. Nice, right?

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Little details start to improve too. So, even though I’ve made Thomas Keller’s roast chicken with root vegetables a million times, when those root vegetables come from the farmer’s market, it tastes that much better (especially the turnips).

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Another little detail: candied walnuts from the Cheese Store made a perfect garnish for Marcella Hazan’s walnut cake with whipped cream. (Though the walnut cake did turn out a little dry; not sure I’ll blog it.)

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This better-than-usual meal had everything to do with how I spent my time prepping it. So now, as I think about tomorrow’s Clean Plate Club dinner party, I’m spending less time studying cookbook recipes and more time plotting my course. First stop? The Santa Monica Farmer’s Market. It’s schlep, but as this post proves, it’ll be worth it.

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Categories: Essays

  • WineDavid

    The key to most cooking is quality ingredients, particularly cuisines like Italian that rely on fewer ingredients. Every single ingredient has to shine, or the dish will fall flat.

  • Agent Strong

    That flower shop next to the cheese store is great. Beautiful arrangements, and they never disappoint. Five months ago I lived right around the corner. Silverlake is a wonderful place. And the Spice Station too! And Forage!

  • Fred Rickson

    If Gelson’s is so overpriced, why do you shop there? BECAUSE YOU CAN FIND ALL YOUR STUFF. Stop complaining.

  • Kathy DiGenova

    Honestly…great ingredients and simplicity is the way to go…always…

  • Agent Strong

    Stating a fact is not necessarily complaining. Gelson’s IS overpriced.

  • Rachel Lester

    Wow, at 3 dollars a branch of rose hips, I could be very rich indeed. We have them growing in abundance in the wild here! : )

  • Fred Rickson

    No, stating “overpriced” is a complaint usage in the English language. Why do you, Agent Strong, shop there? Tee Hee Hee!!!!

  • Anne

    Agree 100%. A great test: just try tossing some farmers market carrots with some melted ghee, sprinkle with salt and roast. Life-changing side dish; puree w/ some veggie stock and life-changing soup. Can’t do that with store-bought carrots.

  • Agent Strong

    For veal. Thats about it. I go through a ton of veal.

  • Fred Rickson

    Veal is a good enough reason.

  • http://www.LynnChen.com/ Lynn Chen

    The Cheese Shop makes the most amazing sandwiches too – their ingredients are the best!

  • Tim

    Glad to hear you say that the ingredients made such a difference. Particularly with cheese, there are so many fantastic artisan cheeses out there, like any of those blues from Rogue Creamery. So glad to see you taking the time to source fantastic handcrafted cheeses!

    Tim
    http://naturesharmonyfarm.com

  • Meghan

    I think that Amanda Hesser wrote about the walnut cake in Cooking for Mr. Latte? Not 100% sure it was the Hazan recipe, but hers came out dry too, and she said she thought it was because she ground the walnuts while they were still warm.