Baked Snapper in Tomato Sauce or How to Decide What to Cook

When you arrive at the store or market with no set plan in mind (and this is a good way to shop sometimes), you have opportunity to be moved by what appeals to your
  • eyes
  • stomach
  • wallet
  • sense of the season
  • knowledge of what’s in your pantry and frig

You must choose, at that moment, to be a rather more open and spontaneous cook, person and shopper. You must allow yourself the ability and time to walk through the produce and meat and fish/seafood sections (the pasta aisle remains fairly static) to just see what appeals. What looks possible, given your time constraints. What looks lovely, given the season. What looks available, given the bucks needed. What looks incredible and must-doable, given your heart. Your heart is critical here. There are days the most beautiful shrimp being sold at the most beautiful price won’t move you. It’s just not your day for shrimp; who knows why.

It’s as much a creative process as anything and, I promise: the process improves with time. The first time you do it, you may wander round and round, taking an hour in the grocery or farmer’s market. The second or third or fourth time may give you the same result. At some point, your love of food and innate intelligence will take over (or not) and the connections will begin to be made. You will walk in, see green beans two pounds for a dollar, stunningly red tomatoes grown nearby, teeeeny bright new potatoes, ahi tuna on sale for $11.99 a pound, and you will say,

“Et voila! Salade nicoise!” or


Now, I’m just starting to take a great French class (one of my life-long goals), but Salade Nicoise does sound better, I think. And, I hope you have better luck finding the tiny Nicoise olives than I do; I usually end up with kalamata.

Ok, you might not start there. This could be an ambitious example.

In between those trips, you will have cooked, eaten and fed someone you like (I hope) and you, if you’re really interested, will have begun to read recipes or even watch Ina Garten on tv. The ideas for what you can do with food will have begun to make an imprint on your, well, I’m a faithful person, so I’ll say soul. You will begin to trust yourself after some successes and disasters. Your friends and family will begin to look forward to your forays in the kitchen and you will be a new person for having learned something more about how to take care of yourself. I believe it can happen to most anyone.

Too scared to start? Then begin by taking 2-3 recipes you think you want to make. Walk through the fresh areas of the store (always on the perimeter). Think about what looked good that is actually on one of your lists. Shop for that recipe and make it.

Here’s the story of my fish:

I knew I wanted to make fish. (fast, friendly, healthy). Went to the store and saw that red snapper looked the freshest and was, in fact, the cheapest right then. Snapper was $9.99 a pound; Tuna was $21.99 a pound. I knew I had zucchini that needed to be used and always have on hand

canned Italian tomatoes, onions, garlic, carrots, and celery

I began to have a picture.

Something, then, could come of all these things. I could have just grilled both the snapper and the zucchini, but something a bit more cooked appealed and this is what I made:


—serves 2-3

1-2 T olive oil

1/2 c chopped onion

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 large carrot, chopped

1 medium zucchini, cut into 1/2″ pieces

2 stalks celery, diced

1 shallot, thinly sliced

Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

1/2 t Herbes de Provence*

1/8 t crushed red pepper flakes

1 32 oz can tomatoes, chopped (I like Cento)

1/2 c ea, red wine and water

1 – 1 1/4 # fresh red snapper

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Over medium heat, in large saute pan, cook chopped vegetables, herbs and salt and peppers in the oil for 10-12 minutes or until softened. Stir often. Add chopped tomatoes, wine and water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 5-10 minutes until somewhat reduced and a bit thickened. Add snapper. Place pan in oven and bake for about 15 minutes or until fish is opaque and flakes bit. Serve over a few gluten-free or regular noodles or rice, if desired.

*Herbes de Provence are available in the spice section or you can make your own by combining dried lavender, thyme, sage, marjoram, savory and/or tarragon. Some people add a wee bit of fennel. If you don’t have these things, try some basil and oregano in generous amounts.

WINE: Try a Cotes du Rhone or even a Beaujolais. This is a good instance of red wine with fish. Here we’re pairing flavors and preparation, not protein, with the wine. Think outside the bottle.

DESSERT: How about a little lemon sorbet, maybe with a tiny butter cookie? Otherwise, try a piece of biscotti with the rest of your wine.

The animals version of this story goes like this:

My bushes out front are, this morning, full of six (yes, six) robins eating juniper berries. Your guess as good as mine as to why the robins are in Colorado in January.

Sing a new song; cook a new fish; go see what the birds are eating,


A blogging note: I’m in the process (might take while) of moving my blog from Blogspot to Word Press; my new address will, sometime in the future, be….

I’ll let you know when the switch occurs. I’m working on getting the site ready, but already see I’ll have more flexibility and can entertain comments, etc. more easily. If you peek anytime soon, you’ll see a site under construction, but are still welcome! Thanks for your patience while I make the change.


Over 3 million Haitians are affected by the earthquake; here are two great places with websites to which you can donate:

World Food Program (UN)

Share our Strength, No Kid Hungry

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