jammed with vendors of fish, colorfully displayed produce and fresh local meats and poultry -- are a catalyst to a home cook's creativity. Daily shopping trips from home to market -- with its tantalizing displays of prime and ripe goods -- and back can't help but cause tempting dinner menus to materialize right before a homemaker's eyes.

After all, there are few things as comforting as preparing just-picked vegetables and the main-course meat (or chicken, or fish) within hours of shopping.

While we may not always live near an "open-air grocery store," it is possible to do the same kind of one-stop shopping at enlarged urban or suburban supermarkets. Many, many informal main courses for relaxed, casual dinner parties can be prepared after one trip to the store. Seasonal vegetables of quality make their appearance in abundance, and goods such as fine condiments free of preservatives, imported boxed durum wheat pastas and herbs by the bunch are available -- all within the confines of most major supermarkets.

It's pleasing to see bunches of fresh coriander neatly pyramided next to two types of parsley (curly and Italian flat-leaf), to be able to buy, finally, red and green peppers (and sometimes yellow, too), cream cheese without additives, brown eggs and several kinds of whole-grain, stone-ground flours, to say nothing of above-average baking chocolates.

In one shopping trip (and with a few staples on hand in the pantry), you can assemble all of the raw ingredients for a lovely main course to feature at an informal dinner. The meal may be rounded out by adding salad greens and whatever vegetable looks best.

Simply prepared fresh fruit is the easiest dessert of all: You can poach the hardier fruits in a bath of fresh ginger and fruit juice (add a splash of rum here if you like); or layer fruit with crushed macaroons, maple syrup and butter for a quick fruit crisp. If you like to bake, a good butter cake or pound cake tastes right with fresh fruit.

This approach can result in such unusual recipes, which follow, as Chicken Breasts in Red Chili Sauce, Pork Chops in Blackberry Sauce, Lamb With Garlic Pearls, Chicken With Roasted Red Peppers, Shrimp in Steak Sauce, Short Ribs of Beef With Spiced Pecans and Sausages in Spicy Tomato Sauce.

If you have learned to do a little easy butchering at home, like boning pieces, buying chicken becomes an even greater value. I tend to rely heavily on whole chickens, which are easy enough to cut up into serving pieces and, when cooked in some kind of aromatic sauce, look attractive presented on a colorful earthenware serving platter.

Pork chops should be a pale rose color, not ruddy red, with a small amount of white (not gray) fat running around the outside. Most butchers agreeably cut chops to any specification (here 1 1/4 inch thickness is just right), but if your choice is limited to prepackaged chops 3/4 to 1 inch thick, just decrease the cooking time by 5-6 minutes or so.

The lamb dish here is a good one to make with young spring lamb when the time comes. Like the lamb recipe, the beef short ribs recipe is one that performs magic on one of the homier cuts of meat.

Fresh shellfish and a variety of sausages are now appearing with regularity at many markets. The sausages are best suited as a Sunday supper-type dish, when you are looking for something hearty, spicy and savory. The shrimp dish is perfect for those occasions when last-minute entertaining is a reality. My favorite kind of sauce to use here is Pickapeppa Sauce. CHICKEN BREASTS IN RED CHILI SAUCE (4 to 6 servings)

Serrano chilies, which are a bright green color, taste spicy but not fiery hot and complement this savory sauce for chicken breasts. Choose peppers that are about 2 inches long, with shiny, smooth, unbruised surfaces.

3 serrano chilies, destemmed and coarsely chopped using rubber gloves to protect your hands

1 cup chicken broth

3 tablespoons lard (olive oil may be substituted)

1 medium-size onion, chopped

3 garlic cloves, chopped

2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

1/2 teaspoon sugar

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon allspice

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

14-ounce can plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped, with their juice

3 whole chicken breasts, split (bone-in) or 6 split chicken breasts

4 tablespoons vegetable oil

1/2 cup (approximately) all-purpose flour, spread out on a dinner plate

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

3 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander leaves (or chopped parsley, if coriander is not available)

Prepare the sauce: In a large casserole that can accommodate the chicken later on, simmer the chilies in the chicken broth over moderate heat for 10 minutes. In the meantime, heat the lard in a small skillet; stir in the onion and garlic and cook over low heat for 5 minutes, then add to the chilies and chicken broth. Stir in the parsley, sugar, tomato paste, cinnamon, allspice and cloves. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the plum tomatoes, stir and simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened up slightly.

While the sauce is simmering, pat dry the chicken breasts on several layers of paper toweling. Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet. Three at a time, dust the chicken breasts in the flour and brown them on both sides in the hot oil. Transfer to the sauce. Brown the remaining chicken and add to the sauce. Season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste. Baste the chicken pieces with the sauce, cover and bring to a rapid simmer.

Transfer the casserole to the middle level of a 350-degree oven and bake the chicken until it is tender, about 30 minutes. The sauce should be thickened slightly. Serve the chicken breasts with the sauce from a large heated platter with the coriander (or parsley) sprinkled over top. PORK CHOPS IN BLACKBERRY SAUCE (6 servings)

Blackberry jam, or preserves, make this easily prepared main course taste lavish and complicated. A big splash of red wine vinegar provides just the right edge to balance the sweetness of the jam.

6 1 1/4-inch thick loin pork chops

1/2 cup (approximately) all-purpose flour, spread out on a dinner plate

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 tablespoons vegetable oil, preferably safflower

1/2 cup blackberry jam or preserves

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons prepared mustard

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/4 cup moist seedless dark raisins

Pat the pork chops dry on several thicknesses of paper toweling; set aside along with the flour.

In a large skillet that has a lid, combine the butter and oil; place over moderately high heat to melt the butter. Turn the heat to high. Dust the pork chops with the flour, 3 at a time, and brown them quickly on both sides in the hot fat. Remove the chops to a plate and brown the remaining chops. Pour out all of the oil and butter; if the mixture has burned, rinse out the pot and add 1 tablespoon of butter to it. If not, continue with the recipe.

Combine the blackberry jam, red wine vinegar, mustard and salt and pepper in the bottom of the skillet. Add the pork chops (they should fit in one layer), and turn to coat them in the sauce. Bring the pan liquid to a rapid simmer. Cover and cook at a simmer for 10 minutes. Turn the chops over and sprinkle on the raisins; continue to cook the pork for an additional 5 to 8 minutes. Keep the pork warm while you gently boil down the pan juices until they are lightly condensed, removing any surface fat with a spoon. Transfer the pork chops to individual plates and pour a little of the sauce over each chop.

Serve the pork with baked rice, buttered pasta or teamed wild rice. Snow peas quickly cooked with shavings of fresh ginger make a delightful green accompaniment. LAMB WITH GARLIC PEARLS (6 servings)

Braising lamb with some colorful chopped vegetables and a hefty amount of garlic cloves is a succulent way to treat a shoulder cut. The garlic cloves get "stewed" in a little butter and honey before being added to browned lamb cubes, liquid and seasoning, and emerge from the casserole softened and vaguely sweet-nutty flavored.

3 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 2-inch cubes

3/4 cup (approximately) all-purpose flour, spread out on a dinner plate

6 tablespoons vegetable oil

Salt and pepper to taste

9 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 onions, coarsely chopped

3 carrots, cut into small dice

3 ribs celery heart, cut into small dice

2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

3 cups chicken broth

1 tablespoon tomato paste


3 heads garlic, separated into individual cloves, and the cloves peeled

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley or chives, if available

Pat dry the pieces of lamb on sheets of paper toweling and transfer to the cooking area with the plate of flour.

Heat the vegetable oil in a casserole large enough to accommodate all of the lamb and liquid later on. When the oil is hot, dust a batch of lamb cubes in the flour and brown them in the hot oil. Brown only as many cubes as will fit comfortably in the bottom without overcrowding (otherwise the lamb will steam instead of brown). Transfer the lamb pieces to a plate as they are browned and season them with salt and pepper.

Pour out the oil from the casserole and add 5 tablespoons of the butter (if the casserole has badly burned, rinse it out). Heat the butter until it is melted over moderately low heat; stir in the onions, carrots and celery. Stir-cook the vegetables for about 7 minutes or until the onions become translucent. Stir in the thyme, parsley, chicken broth and tomato paste. Bring to a boil, then simmer, partially covered, for 10 minutes.

In the meantime, place the garlic cloves and 4 tablespoons butter in a small saucepan, cover and set over moderately low heat to melt the butter. When the butter has melted, lower the heat and cook the garlic for 2 minutes. Add the honey, stir, and cook uncovered on low heat for 2 minutes longer. Add the garlic mixture to the casserole, liquid and all. Add the lamb cubes and any juices that may have accumulated. Bring the liquid to a boil, cover, and simmer for about 1 3/4 hours, or until the lamb is tender; alternately place the casserole on the lower third level of a 325-degree oven to cook.

The liquid should be reduced slightly and lightly thickened when the lamb is done; if it is not, remove the lamb cubes with a slotted spoon to a bowl and keep warm while you boil down the sauce to a spoon-coating consistency. Taste for additional seasoning, adding salt and pepper as necessary. Replace the lamb to heat through. Serve the lamb from a large deep platter with either parsley or chives sprinkled over top. CHICKEN WITH ROASTED RED PEPPERS (4 servings)

This is an earthy-tasting dish, because the peppers, when roasted, flavor the chicken in a slightly smoky way.

3 red bell peppers, firm and meaty

3 1/2 pound chicken, cut up into 8 serving pieces

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

4 tablespoons vegetable oil, preferably safflower oil

1/2 cup all-purpose flour, spread out on a dinner plate

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium-size onion, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, minced

3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

12-ounce can plum tomatoes, chopped, with their juice

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

3/4 cup chicken broth blended with 2 teaspoons tomato paste

Char the peppers on all sides under a broiler; wrap up the peppers in a large sheet of aluminum foil and set aside.

Pat dry the chicken on several thicknesses of paper toweling. Heat the butter and vegetable oil in a skillet until very hot. A few pieces at a time, dust the chicken pieces in the flour, and brown them on both sides in the hot fat. Remove the chicken pieces as they are browned to a plate and season with salt and pepper. Brown the remaining chicken pieces in the fat. Pour out all of the fat from the skillet. Add the olive oil. Cook the onion and garlic in the olive oil on low heat until the onion has softened up, about 5 minutes. Stir in the parsley, plum tomatoes and oregano. Bring to a boil; boil 1 minute. Stir in the chicken broth mixture. Bring to a boil. Add the chicken pieces, basting them with the pan sauce, cover and simmer for about 25 minutes or until the chicken is tender and cooked through.

In the meantime, remove the peppers from the foil, peel off the skin and remove the seeds. Cut the peppers into strips and set aside.

When the chicken is finished cooking, remove it to a plate and keep warm. Add the pepper strips to the pan liquid and heat them through while you boil down the sauce slightly to condense it. Return the chicken pieces to the sauce. Transfer the chicken, sauce and pepper strips to a warmed platter for serving.

Serve the chicken with a simple green vegetable, such as green beans tossed in a haze of parmesan cheese, and rice, if you like. SHRIMP IN STEAK SAUCE (6 to 8 servings)

These delicious shrimp are sharp and tangy -- a good bottled steak sauce makes them so. Onions and garlic are the savory roots that, when chopped, give a full, rounded taste to the sauce. One of the glories of this recipe is that it can be doubled or tripled with ease to accommodate a crowd of hungry eaters.

3 pounds shrimp, peeled with the tails left on, and deveined

1/2 teaspoon or more coarse (kosher) salt

1/2 teaspoon or more freshly ground black pepper

12 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 small onions, minced

6 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons good quality steak sauce

Juice of 1 lemon, strained

Place the shrimp in a bowl, sprinkle over the salt and pepper, stir, and keep refrigerated until needed.

To cook the shrimp, melt the butter in a large skillet. Add the onions and cook them slowly in the butter until they are translucent, about 5 to 6 minutes. Add the garlic cloves, stir, and cook for 1 minute. In a small bowl, combine the steak sauce and lemon juice. Add the shrimp to the skillet and cook over moderately high heat for 1 minute. Pour over the steak sauce and lemon juice mixture, stir, and continue cooking just until the shrimp turn opaque, about 3 to 4 minutes longer. Adjust the seasoning with additional salt and pepper to taste.

Serve the shrimp over a mound of steamed white rice, saffron rice or baked brown rice. Garnish the shrimp with a few sprigs of watercress, a fresh leaf or herb sprigs if you have them. SHORT RIBS OF BEEF WITH SPICED PECANS (6 servings)

These tender short ribs are uplifted with aromatic ground spices, once perking up the sauce, and again as the flavoring agent on the toasted pecans.

4 pounds beef short ribs

1 cup (approximately) all-purpose flour, spread out on a dinner plate

1/4 cup vegetable oil, preferably safflower oil

3 medium size onions, chopped

3 medium size ribs celery, thinly sliced

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 cup tomato paste

3 tablespoons liquid brown sugar

3 3/4 cups beef broth

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

7 shakes hot pepper sauce

1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans

Pat dry the short ribs on several thicknesses of paper toweling; set aside with the flour near the stove top.

In a large casserole, one that can accommodate all of the short ribs later on, heat up the vegetable oil over a moderately high flame. Raise the heat to high, wait 1 minute, then begin to lightly dust some of the short ribs in the flour (as many as will comfortably fit in the bottom of the pan without crowding) and brown them on both sides in the hot oil. After all of the beef has been browned, there should be 1 to 2 tablespoons oil left in the pan; if not, add 2 tablespoons safflower oil. (If the oil-flour is badly burned, rinse out the pot and add another 2 tablespoons of oil.)

Add the onions and celery to the pot and cook over low heat until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the chopped garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon allspice, 1/4 teaspoon ginger and all the cloves; raise the heat to moderate and cook the spices, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in the tomato paste, liquid brown sugar and beef stock. Season with salt and pepper. Bring the liquid to a boil; boil 1 minute. Add the hot pepper sauce. Add the browned short ribs, nestle them in the liquid, bring everything to a boil again. Reduce the heat so that the liquid simmers, cover and simmer for about 3 hours, stirring the beef occasionally (and carefully), until the short ribs are very tender.

In the meantime, toss the pecans with 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon allspice and 1/4 teaspoon ginger. Place the nuts on a cookie sheet and toast them in a 375-degree oven for about 4 to 5 minutes or until they are lightly brown. Remove to a bowl and set aside.

When the short ribs are tender, remove them to a bowl; keep warm. Bring the liquid to a boil, skimming off as much of the surface fat as you can. Continue boiling to reduce the liquid by about 1/4, just to condense it lightly. Return the short ribs to the sauce; season with additional salt and pepper as necessary.

Spoon the beef and pan sauce to a large serving platter and sprinkle the spiced nuts over top. Serve the beef with buttered wide noodles, rice or small boiled potatoes. SAUSAGES IN SPICY TOMATO SAUCE (8 servings)

Large polish sausages, kielbasa, hot or sweet sausages, or Italian sausages simmered in tomato sauce make a hearty and satisfying main course on a rain-soaked day.


1/4 cup good olive oil

2 medium size onions, finely chopped

4 garlic cloves, minced

1/4 cup chopped parsley

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

4 tablespoons tomato paste

2 35-ounce tins Italian plum tomatoes, with their juice

2 teaspoons hot red pepper flakes

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste


4 tablespoons olive oil

4 pounds sausages

Make the tomato sauce: In a heavy saucepan, heat the olive oil on low heat for 1 minute; add the chopped onions and cook for 5 minutes or until the onions are translucent. Stir in the garlic and parsley; stir-cook for 1 minute. Stir in the oregano and tomato paste; cook for 2 minutes. Pure'e the plum tomatoes with the juice through a food mill to hold back the seeds. Pour the pure'ed tomatoes into the saucepan, add the hot pepper flakes, and season with salt and pepper. Bring the sauce to a lively simmer, then simmer slowly, partially covered, for 1 1/2 hours. Uncover the pot and simmer the sauce for 15 to 20 minutes longer or until very lightly thickened. Adjust the seasoning with additional salt and pepper, as needed. The sauce may be prepared and frozen for future use; pack in sturdy freezer containers when cool. The sauce may be stored in the freezer for up to 4 months.

To finish the dish, heat the olive oil in a large skillet and brown the sausages in the oil on both sides; brown the sausages in several batches.

Remove the browned sausages to the pot of sauce, cover and simmer for 30 minutes or until the sausages are cooked through and very hot.

Serve the sausages from a large warmed platter, with buttered pasta, baked rice or polenta.