Reality Cooking : A Realist’s Pantry

Reality cooking means breaking down and using convenience products. Here are a few that can make make life a little easier:

* Canned black beans: Either regular (about 59 a can) or nonfat (twice as much but less guilt-producing). Great mixed with rice and served with salsa and plain yogurt, rolled up in a tortilla or mixed with corn, fresh tomato and vinegar and oil spiked with cumin as an accompaniment to chicken and cheese quesadillas.

* Fresh (not frozen) boned chicken breasts: These can be cooked in a variety of ways and then frozen for use later. This works particularly well when the chicken is marinated, grilled and sliced or stir-fried with, say, oil, garlic and a dash of soy sauce.

* Grated cheese: I used to think these were too expensive, but now the only grating done at our house is of esoteric cheeses that can’t be purchased that way.


* Tiny red potatoes: They microwave well and can be served whole sprinkled with almost any herb that happens to be growing at the moment. Or they make the basis of a good company lunch or light dinner: split or quartered, tossed with an anchovy vinaigrette, mixed with grilled tuna slices, capers, olives and tomatoes and served over a bed of greens. With bread, pretty darn good.

* Pre-washed and packaged salads: The convenience is worth it . (she makes a big pt. in other article about never apologizing.)

* Packaged corn bread mix: This can be made into muffins, bread or pancakes. It’s cheap and good.

* Bottled salad dressing: I like Girard’s Light Caesar (with a coupon since it’s pricey) and Oriental-Chef Delicate Sesame.


* Garden-grown herbs: Having herbs from your own garden is like money in the bank. Not only are they cheaper to grow than to purchase, they free the cook to experiment--and, a great luxury, to even garnish, when the mood and the truly unattractive dish strike. In pots, I grow flat-leaf Italian parsley, mint, tarragon, chives, oregano, sage and marjoram. I have one small bush of rosemary. Not only do they season, they can be tossed into packaged greens to produce an interesting salad to be served by itself or as a bottom layer for a plate of grilled chicken, seafood or vegetables. They are worth the effort.