I was thumbing through one of the many cooking magazines I have recently and I came across an article in Fine Cooking on meatloaf. As we’d been trying to come up with a simple, basic, yet delicious meatloaf recipe for our Good Food Combination for this week, I couldn’t help but to get excited when I saw it. They had basically broken up meatloaf preparation into a few steps with seemingly endless choices.

You soaked your bread in milk, you picked your aromatics, what I have always termed my mirepoix – a mixture of base vegetables, usually celery, carrots and onion, though it could consist of anything from shallots and leeks, to ginger and garlic – and then you chose your meats, your accents, your spices, your glazes and sauces and that’s it, your done.

And it really is that easy. Where cooks get lost, where I tend to get lost anyhow, is starting without a plan. Not even a plan so much as a path, a flavor profile for lack of a better term. I tend to think of it as regional – though even this mindset can be limiting. Do I want a Mediterranean flavor, an island flavor, Asian influence, Latin, French or just hints of one or the other. It doesn’t get me all the way, but it tells me which direction to go at least.

A really good chef sees all this and can grasp those minute, simple flavors that bind those variant paths together, the Malaysian influence that brings the Thai and Chinese cooking together. Or the Moroccan flavor that can blend the West African spices with the Spanish flavors. But for us, the daily home chefs, the family cooks, the foodie turned kitchen scientist, it’s hard to know where to start.

Like the meatloaf, there are a few dishes that combine the best of what nature has to offer in one hardy dish. Meals that follow what the season brings, but have basic flavors that can be gently molded to fit any world flavor you care to test. Lately for me, this dish has been a mixture of grains, squash and greens.

Winter squashes are easily interchangeable, and even though they have their various subtleties they all have one thing in common – they all taste great roasted. So that’s where I start, roast squash. Last time I tossed them in a variety of fresh herbs, savory, thyme, and tarragon, dusted them with smoked paprika and honey, a little olive oil and that was it, roast to a nice soft brown.

The second step is the grain. I’ve used farro, barley, quinoa, short grain brown rice, wild rice,  and even millet. A pilaf of different kinds of grains is also a great way to go. These too can be flavored using spices or sauteed briefly with a mirepoix. The last step, the greens, is the easiest. Just a large skillet, some butter or oil and a brief saute of onion, shallots, leeks or other alliums along with ginger or garlic and then a quick toss of the greens and finish with vinegar, stock or citrus juice. Between the wide variety of different ingredients and the choice of spices and herbs, there are countless preparations. All easy, quick and amazingly different. I haven’t found one I didn’t like yet.

Here’s what my box looks like this week:

Red Onions
Bunched Carrots
Green Leaf Lettuce
Green Kale
Fairchild Tangerines
White turnips
D’anjou Pears
Cameo Apples

I think you know where the greens are going. And I switched out the kiwis for more white turnips. I plan to make a salad out of them with the tangerines. I can’t wait. I think it’s almost time to get the grill going again. I made some burgers last weekend and they were so good i might just have to grill up some eggplant this week. Although, i found a great recipe for an eggplant curry I’d like to try. The rest really says salads to me, I’ve been craving some different styles. And I might try my hand at creamed spinach come next week too.

I’m excited to try out some new recipes, and look for some new ways to bring old favorites back to life. Have a great weekend and I’ll talk to you next week.