Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Cohabitating: Fried Green Tomatoes with Field Peas


There are many pleasures associated with living in the city, including easy access to world class restaurants, our choice of farmers' markets, and the proximity to downtown locales.

There are also some small disadvantages, the smaller the worse. I know that country folk have to contend with an assortment of varmints. Us? Crazy squirrels and, shudder, rats. It's been a particularly active year for latter the species. In our set of attached rowhouses, we and our neighbors have seen more than our fair share of the Rattus norvegicus, both dead and alive. I know the genus name only from Pixar's Our Friend the Rat, a short film associated with Ratatouille. It seems appropriate that the featured dish in said movie highlights tomatoes, since our enemy, the rat, pilfered our last beautiful red ripe heirloom tomato. Boo hoo.

I'm tired of battling the creatures for the fruits of our vine. I also realize that I'm probably being optimistic to believe that any more will turn red given the drop in temperatures. So sadly, I stripped our plants of the hard green balls, realizing that summer is officially gone. The silver lining? I get to make Fried Green Tomatoes, an early autumn pleasure, that I indulge in only after the possibility of ripe fruit is gone. Partnering them with some stewed field peas, a newcomer to our markets, we had a delicious almost vegetarian supper, in spite of the rats.

Field Peas with Tasso and Fried Green Tomatoes

1 teaspoon vegetable oil
2 ounces tasso ham sliced
10 ounces fresh field peas (you could substitute soaked black eyed peas)
¼ cup chicken stock
1 ¾ cup water
1 small tomato, chopped
2 to 3 small green tomatoes, sliced 1/2-inch thick
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup buttermilk
dash tabasco
salt to taste
vegetable oil for frying

Heat the vegetable oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the ham and cook for about 5 minutes or until lightly browned. Pour in water and stock and bring to a simmer. Add the peas and tomato and cook until the peas are tender 30 to 45 minutes.

Heat about an inch of vegetable oil in a heavy medium skillet to 325 F. Whisk the tabasco into the buttermilk and the salt into the cornmeal. Dredge the tomato slices first in flour, then dip in buttermilk, and then into the cornmeal. Fry the slices until golden and serve on top of the field peas.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Harvest Farewell: Moroccan Spiced Corn Soup

Photo Credit iStock Photo

These are the days of change. Every day, the early autumn sky is dotted by more and more colors - schoolbus yellow, pumpkin orange, and brick red. The temperatures continue to decline, the air turning from humid to crisp. The markets are changing as well, each week the tables shrink, summer's produce disappearing seemingly before our very eyes. All this creates busy days for those of us who seek to capture at least some sliver of the harvest canning, drying and freezing.

This week's market buy destined for the freezer was fresh corn, which I saved in two ways: frozen kernals, shaved from the cob, and then as stock, both of which are put to good use in this recipe.

Moroccan Spiced Corn Soup with Harissa
Serves 4

3 ears corn
1 small shallot
2 sprigs thyme
4 cilantro stems
1 ½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup finely chopped red onion
1 medium garlic clove, minced
½ Serrano chile, seeded and minced
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon coriander seeds, toasted and finely ground
¾ teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and finely ground
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 Yukon Gold potato, cut into 1/8 inch dice
1 ½ tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro
4 teaspoons of harissa

Shuck corn and remove kernels from the cob. Place corn kernels into a bowl. Put cobs into a medium saucepan with shallot, thyme and cilantro stems. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Simmer for 20 minutes. Strain and reserve as corn stock. Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan until hot, but not smoking. Sauté red onion and Serrano chile slightly softened, approximately 2 minutes. Add minced garlic and sauté until fragrant approximately 30 seconds. Sprinkle pan with all-purpose flour and spices and cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes. Add 3 cups of the corn stock and bring to a boil. Add potato and simmer for 5 minutes. Add corn kernels and cook for 10 minutes or until corn and potatoes are both tender. Let cool slightly and puree in a food processor. Force through a fine mesh sieve, pressing hard on solids; discard solids. Return to cleaned pan and bring to a simmer. Add kosher salt to taste, about 1 teaspoon. Add heavy cream and cook for 2 minutes. If the soup is too thick, add any remaining corn stock or water. Remove from heat and stir in cilantro. Pour into bowls and top with a teaspoon or less of harissa.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Autumn Equinox: Tomato, Avocado and Cilantro Pesto

Tomato Picture

Last night, the end of the Autumnal equinox, we feasted on tomatoes. Among the decay of my backyard full of withering vines, Mike and I enjoyed a bottle of rose and ate another September tomato salad. While many other cooks celebrate the coming of fall with pumpkin, sweet potatoes, apples, or some other late harvest crop, for me, there is no better way to celebrate the end of summer than to revel in its glory.

I've talked about our small urban garden a few times during this growing season. Finally, I've successfully grown more than herbs. Cucumbers, peppers, raspberries, and green beans, have been among our "crops." But nothing has made me more proud than our glorious heirloom tomato plant. Carefully tended, watered, and shrouded with screen after the first tomato was pecked by birds, the giant fruit started to redden in early September. Each of the orbs weighing at least a pound has fed us well providing several days of tomato enjoyment.

Back in May, we ate day after day of asparagus, roasted, grilled, and sauteed, until it disappeared from the market, replaced by the remainder of summer's fill. And so, I find it mildly comforting, that I ended the growing season in the same manner that I began it, gorging myself on the season's best.

My seasonal indulgences remind me of a Emily Dickinson quote that I cannot find. In essence, she told us that only by enduring scarcity, can we fully appreciate plenty.(Interesting how words can be ephemeral, but concepts timeless.) We soon come to the end of our eating cycle, about to enter into the days of root vegetables and bitter greens. I love those days too, and when I tire of my diet of underground dwellers, I'll comfort myself with the thought of stalks of asparagus shooting from the spring earth and later vines heavy with red tomatoes. But until the bitter end, I'll continue to gorge myself on my tomato salads, including this, my favorite: Tomato, Avocado and Red Onion Salad with Cilantro Pesto


Tomato, Avocado and Red Onion Salad with Cilantro Pesto
Serves 2-4

1 large heirloom tomato, sliced 1/3-inch thick
1 avocado, sliced 1/4-inch
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1 small bunch cilantro
1 large garlic clove
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
kosher salt

Puree the last five ingredients together in a food processor until smooth. Intersperse the tomato, avocado and red onion on a platter. Dab the salad with gobs of cilantro pesto (you'll have extra of this, you can either save it for remaining tomato salads or freeze it for the dark winter months).

Watch What You Eat! First Ever Chicago Food Film Festival

Food movies are so delicious. Movie theater food, not so much. The first ever Chicago Food Film Festival changes all that this weekend.

Following up on the continued success in New York, the folks at the Food Film Festival have made their way to the Midwest. On September 24 and 25th, they'll transform the MCA Warehouse into a screening room to show some of the favorite movies from the past four year's festivals.

Packed with mouth-watering documentaries, features, short films and food, the festival brings you the opportunity to taste what you see on screen for a multi-sensory, full-bodied experience.

On Friday, take in a series of short films, including Craig Noble's The Perfect Oyster during which you can feast on the Fanny Bay variety from Shaws. On Saturday, the focus is on the big Bs: burgers and beer. Check out The Beer Wars, Cud, and a shortened version of The Best Hamburger in America, directed by the festival founder, George Motz. During the screenings, get your fill of burgers from DMK Burger Bar and brews from Stone Brewing, Half Acre and Two Brothers.

What are you waiting for? Buy your tickets now to feast, view, and support Purple Asparagus, the festival's non-profit partner all at the same time.

Click here for tickets. General admission (which includes food and booze) is $30.00.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Blogging at Kiwi!

Just two days after celebrating Little Locavores one year anniversary, I have some very exciting news. I've signed on to guest blog at Kiwi Magazine's blog: Kiwilog.

I've been a fan of Kiwi since I first picked up at Green Fest a few years back. It's a parenting magazine for the environmentally conscious rich with tips on nutrition, education, and healthy lifestyles. I couldn't imagine a publication with values more aligned with mine.

I'll be posting once a month, generally on the third Monday. Bookmark the site and keep an eye out for some exciting developments on it, which should be taking place in the next few months.

To read my first post, Local, Sustainable, Delicious!, click here

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Little Locathor Speaks!


Photo Credit Artisan Events

In the busyness of August, gearing up for Corks and Crayons, Purple Asparagus' annual fundraiser, and getting organized for Chefs in the Classroom, Chicago's initiative implement the First Lady's Chefs Move to Schools program, I missed a significant milestone. On August 17, 2010, Little Locavores turned one year old.

Throughout this year, I've written about the eating adventures of Thor aka Little Locathor. Today, to mark this occasion, if belatedly, I decided to share a bit about Thor through his own words. From this Q and A, I think you'll see that he is no wheatgrass drinking health nut nor one of those of foodie kids who eats eats all sorts of exotica. He's just a normal kid who happens to be a little more conscious of where his food comes from.

What's your favorite meal?

Pizza. (Thankfully, he clarified that it was our homemade pizza).

What's your favorite non-kid meal?

Dad's juicy barbecued chicken (It took us a little while to realize that he was referring to our marinated, grilled chicken breast).

What's your favorite vegetable?

Celery (This one's a surprise).


Because of ants on a log.

How about fruits, what's your favorite?

It's a three way tie: raspberries, blueberries and cucumbers. (He knows his botany).

What's your favorite restaurant?

Sepia (a high end special occasion restaurant that we go to only once a year)

What's your second favorite.

DMK Burger Bar (a more casual restaurant that we frequent more often. While he doesn't appreciate it yet, Thor is greeted by name by the tall leggy blond servers there).

What's your favorite dessert?

Sorbet or cookies, especially chocolate chip.

To celebrate our one year anniversary, Little Locathor and I made some chocolate chip cookies. While I would love to share one with and every one of you, that's be a lot of postage. I'll instead share my recipe. Everyone has their own view of a perfect chocolate chip cookie, this is mine: crispy, yet chewy. And while I won't claim it to be healthy, it does include a good percentage of whole wheat flour, though you'd never know it.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes 2 ½ dozen

1 cup sugar
½ cup light brown, demerara sugar or palm sugar (I use palm sugar from Zingerman’s – it’s unbelievably good)
13 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon honey
2 large eggs
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350° F. In a medium bowl, mix together flours, baking soda and salt. Cream together butter, honey and sugars. Add eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl before the addition of each egg. Beat in vanilla. Add the flour, mix on low until the dry ingredients are just moistened. Increase the speed to medium until well-mixed approximately 2 minutes. Add chocolate chips and stir the batter with a rubber spatula. Drop tablespoons of dough onto parchment or silpat lined baking sheets and bake for 15-18 minutes, reversing the placement of the pans about a halfway through. Cool on racks.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Cooking Cucumbers with Grace Young, Chinese Cookbook Author

Photograph and Recipe Courtesy of Grace Young

A few months back, I helped out Grace Young, award-winning author of The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen and The Breath of a Wok. Grace was making her rounds promoting her newest book Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge and was organizing a media trip to Chicago. Knowing a thing or two about both the Chicago food loving and food cooking community, I gave her a few names of people to contact in conjunction with a lecture she was giving in Chinatown. To thank me, she sent me a copy of her new book.

Like The Breath of a Wok, Grace starts out with an expert review of the wok itself, making me again realize how foolish (and overpriced) my stainless steel lined, copper wok purchase was. In the introductory sections, she gives a terrific and compelling explanation of how how best to season and maintain a wok. Then, for cooks new to Chinese cuisine, she gives a terrific overview of ingredients, technique, and equipment. And in these seemingly mundane topics, Grace brings the wok to life and it then in turn compels the reader to respect it. But, in this beautifully photographed and illustrated book, the real alchemy occurs in the stories. Grace follows the wok as it crisscrosses the globe, from the Yunnan Province to Alabama, from Shanghai to Trinidad, creating new combinations and transforming local ingredients into dishes comforting and familiar to its itinerant, immigrant owners.

At the very minimum, a cookbook should provide consistent recipes for delicious food. Grace does that with ease. A great cookbook engages not just the stomach, but the mind. With her gift of story telling and ability to teach, Grace has written another book that does just that.

What Grace has also done is give me another way to use up my cucumbers. As I explained in my last post, I've had to contend with a bumper crop of cucumber this year. I was, thus, thankful to find Grace's recipe for Stir-Fried Cucumber and Pork with Golden Garlic. Thankful too was Little Locathor for whom the cucumber is a great favorite. He gave the dish an enthusiastic thumbs up.

Grace Young will be in Chicago again next weekend speaking for Culinary Historians of Chicago Saturday, Sept 25th at Kendall College at 10 am.

Stir-Fried Cucumber and Pork with Golden Garlic

1/4 cup peanut or vegetable oil
3 tablespoons chopped garlic
12 ounces lean pork shoulder, cut into 1/4-inch thick bite-sized slices
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
3 teaspoons soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 large seedless cucumber ends trimmed, halved lengthwise, and cut on the diagonal into 1/4-inch slices (about 3 cups)

In a 1-quart saucepan or a 14-inch flat-bottomed wok heat the oil over high heat until the oil registers 280 F on a deep-frying thermometer. Carefully add the garlic. Cook, stirring 30 seconds to 1 minute or until the garlic is slightly golden. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Remove the garlic with a metal skimmer and put on a plate lined with paper towels. Careful remove the oil from the wok and reserve. Wash the wok and dry it thoroughly.

In a shallow bowl combine the pork, cornstarch 1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce and sugar and 1/4teaspoon of the salt in a small bowl combine the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoon soy sauce and 1 tablespoon cold water.

Heat 14-inch flat bottomed or 12-inch skillet over high heat until a bead of water vaporizes within 1 or 2 second of contact. Swirl in 2 tablespoons of the reserved garlic oil, add the ginger slices, then, using a metal spatula, stir-fry 30 seconds or until the ginger is fragrant. Push the ginger to the sides of the wok, carefully add the pork, and spread it evenly in one layer in the wok. Cook undisturbed 1 minute, letting the pork begin to sear. Then stir-fry 1 minute or until the pork is lightly browned but not cooked through. Add the cucumber and stir-fry 30 seconds or until well combined. Sprinkle on the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, swirl the reserved soy sauce mixture into the wok and sit fry 1 minute or until the pork is just cooked and the cucumber begins to wilt. Stir in the reserved garlic.

Serve warm over rice.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

From Trash to Table: Cucumber Basil Cooler


As I mentioned earlier in this growing season, we planted cucumbers for the first time in our small urban garden. Our prolific vines have kept us in cucumber salads, pickles, and Tzitki sauce for months. My one miscalculation in all of this was our purchase of a vegetable share from Harvest Moon Farms, who also have had extremely prolific vines.

While cucumbers are a favorite of both me and Little Locathor, we've had a hard time keeping up. I resurrected my grandmother's vinegary cucumber salad, created one of my own, and even cooked them in a stir-fry (recipe coming soon). Nevertheless, every time I think I've cleared my fridge of them all, another appears on the vine, or reveals itself from its hiding place in the crisper.

This second category has posed a greater problem, as at this point, they are certainly not at their peak only one step away from the compost heap. Taking my own trash to table challenge, I set out on a quest to find a way to use up wrinkly, soft cucumbers. Pulling out my slightly dusty veggie juicer, I extracted the pale green liquid from the overripe solids. What I've learned in this bumper year for cucumbers, the juice can be used in a number of recipes: for cooking couscous, a vegetarian risotto, or a poaching liquid for salmon or chicken. My favorite, however, is a brunch time cocktail that we've named the Fuzzy Pickle.

The Fuzzy Pickle
Serves 2

2 cups cucumber juice
8 leaves of basil
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 jigger vodka
seltzer water and ice

Muddle the basil and sugar together in a mortar and pestle. Scrape the mixture into a cocktail shaker, add juice, vodka and ice. Shake the mixture and strain into a large glass over ice. Top off the glass with seltzer water. Garnish with a cucumber or fresh herbs (the oregano blossoms in my garden were too beautiful to resist).

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Seasonal Meal Plan from Bret Beall of GOD-DESS

The third installment in our alternative meal plans comes from my friend Bret Beall. This series takes full advantage of the farmers' market bounty of late summer. I love the fact that Bret considers the season not just in ingredient choice, but also kitchen technique - suggesting oven-free dishes for the often hot days of early September.

Bret S. Beall, MS, PhD (Cand), is the Founder and CEO of Global Organic Designs – Discovering Earth’s Science & Spirit, or GOD-DESS. Thanks to his often-insane parents, Bret has been a locavore for most of the entire half century of his life, first in the San Francisco Bay area, then in St. Louis, then on a farm in southern Missouri. As an undergrad he continued to mooch off of his parents’ homegrown, home-raised and home-prepared foods, preferring his own cooking to typical collegiate fare. As a grad student at The University of Michigan, Bret quickly found the farmers market and became a regular there. Since moving to Chicago in 1987, he has haunted local farm stands and farmers markets all over the Midwest. With formal education in evolutionary paleontology, biology, ecology and geology, plus over a decade in healthcare management, Bret now uses this diverse background to teach others how to live fantastic lives with minimal time, effort or money. For more information, visit, or call 773.508.9208, or email

The following menu plan is a collection of prime summer recipes. That means that they take advantage of farm fresh, in-season produce and require minimal cooking times (and no oven usage; once the temperature gets over 75 degrees, the oven stays off … it’s earth-unfriendly to have air conditioning, and then require it to work overtime because you’ve turned on the oven in the middle of summer. These recipes have been simplified in most cases to minimize the numbers of ingredients; once you become familiar with the techniques, feel free to enhance these recipes to make them your own!

You may also notice some common elements through some of the week’s recipes. This is to take advantage of perishable ingredients that have been bought for one recipe, so that they don’t go to waste. You could choose to prepare some of these ingredients for freezing, but that is beyond the scope of this meal plan, so I’m just going to help you use these perishable ingredients.

Shopping list for the week:
One small bottle of peanut oil (16 oz)
One small bottle of olive oil (8 oz)
One small bottle of red wine vinegar (8 oz)
One small bottle of balsamico (industriale) (8 oz)
Two pounds of salmon fillet, skin-on but scaled, but into eight ¼ lb portions
Two pounds of London broil
Two pounds of pork steaks
Five ears sweet corn on the cob
One jar/bag Garlic Powder
One head Garlic
Six limes
Two medium zucchini
Seven medium onions
Two jalapeno chiles
Seven tomatoes, ideally red and yellow, or heirloom
One small (preferably seedless) watermelon
One jar or bag oregano
One bottle hot sauce
One-half pound mushrooms, sliced
Three red bell peppers
One medium cucumber
One stick butter
One pound rice (long grain)
One small bag of sugar
One small bunch of cilantro
One small bunch basil and/or mint
One small jar peanut butter (at least one cup; crunch or smooth)
Four bay leaves
One jar/bag pepper corns, or ground pepper
One container salt
One package of small flour tortillas (12 tortillas)


four ¼ lb portions of salmon fillets
3T peanut oil
salt and pepper to taste
Heat skillet to medium high. Add peanut oil. While oil is heating, salt and pepper the fillets on all sides to taste. When oil is hot, place the four fillets in the skillet side-by-side, skin down, and cook for about four minutes. Do not disturb. After five minutes, use a spatula to completely turn over the fillets, and cook another three minutes. Remove to a paper towel lined plate, and hold until the Italian Flag Zucchini are done.

1.5 medium zucchini (about 8"), halved, cut into half moons (save the remaining half zucchini for Wednesday’s dinner; wrap in cellophane and refrigerate)
1 small onion (about 3" diameter), peeled, halved lengthwise, cut into thin half moons
3 tomatoes (about 3" in diameter), peeled, coarsely diced
1 medium clove garlic, finely minced
1 T oregano, dried
2 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 T red wine vinegar (there is no alcohol in wine vinegar, so it's fine for children)
1 t salt
20 grinds black pepper
Heat the olive oil in an 8" sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until translucent and slightly browned, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the zucchini, garlic, salt, pepper and oregano to the onions and stir to combine; sauté about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and red wine vinegar, stir to combine, and cook until the zucchini are tender, about 5 minutes.
NOTE: this recipe is really flexible and multipurpose. You can use it as a pasta sauce, as a sauce for pan-seared fish (such as salmon) or chicken (including boneless, skinless breasts for a low-fat meal), or pan-fried pork chops, lamb chops or beef steak, or as a topping on a hamburger or hot dog. Double or triple the recipe so that you have leftovers for other applications. It freezes well.

Please remember that “vinaigrette” has only THREE syllables … the word is NOT “vinegar-ette.”
These are proportions for 4 servings:
¼ c olive oil
1 T plus 1 t red wine vinegar (use wine or citrus as alternates)
Salt to taste (up to ½ t)
pepper to taste (20 to 40 grinds)
8 c greens, torn into bite-sized pieces.
Combine all of the ingredients except the greens in a large bowl that can hold all of the greens loosely. Using a fork or a whisk (I hate cleaning whisks, so I use a fork), vigorously whip the ingredients until the vinegar is emulsified evenly in the oil, as if you were scrambling eggs. Add the greens and toss gently, ideally with your hands. Gently lift the dressed greens out of the bowl and onto the main plate with the steak and zucchini side; serve immediately.


Steak, tomatoes and corn … is there any more American combination?

1 lb London Broil, cut into ¼ lb portions
salt and pepper to taste
1 t garlic powder (optional)
2 T peanut oil
8 oz sliced mushrooms
¼ c balsamico
Heat large medium skillet to medium hot. While skillet is heating, season the London Broil with salt, pepper and garlic/chipotle powder (if using). Once the meat is seasoned, and the skillet is hot, add the peanut oil, turn the skillet to spread the oil around, and add the meat. Let the meat sear for one minute, then cover the skillet, and continue cooking for another two minutes. Remove lid, turn meat over, and cook for one minute, then cover and cook for another two minutes. Remove the meat, and let it rest for 10 minutes while you work on the tomato salad and the corn on the cob, and prepare the mushroom sauce.
Mushroom Sauce: To the hot, empty skillet, add the sliced mushrooms, stirring as they begin to wilt and release their moisture into the skillet; when the mushrooms are limp, add ½ c water and ¼ c balsamico; as the liquid boils, scrape the bottom of the skillet to remove any crusty bits (the fond). Allow the mixture to reduce until syrupy.
NOTE: you purchased another pound of London Broil. Go ahead and cook it as above, and let it cool; after dinner, prepare it for use in Thursday’s Thai dinner, and go ahead and prepare the cucumber salad for Thursday as well.

Four medium tomatoes, sliced into about eight slices each; using red and yellow tomatoes, or heirlooms, will add interest
2 T chopped fresh mint and/or basil
2 T olive oil
2 t balsamico
salt/pepper to taste
Spread the sliced tomatoes on four plates attractively; evenly distribute the salt and pepper. Sprinkle one quarter of the mint and/or basil on each of the tomato plates. Serve immediately.
NOTE: if you prepare extra tomatoes, you can chop up the leftover salad, and use with cooked pasta as an easy sauce, or on bruschetta, or as a sauce on meat, poultry or fish.

4 ears corn, husks and silks removed
¼ c salt
Butter, salt and pepper to taste
Bring one gallon of water to boil in a large pot. Add salt and return to a boil. Add the ears of corn to the boiling water, and boil for three minutes. Remove the ears and drain on toweling. Serve immediately with butter, salt and pepper.

To serve, place one piece of steak on each plate, drape each meat portion with ¼ of the mushroom sauce; to each plate, add one fourth of the tomato salad, and one ear of corn. Enjoy!


4 pork steaks, about 1 pound total
salt and pepper to taste
1 t garlic powder (optional)
3 T peanut oil
Add the peanut oil to a large hot skillet over medium/medium high heat. While oil is getting hot, season the pork steaks with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Arrange the steaks in the hot oiled skilled in a single layer, and cook for approximately five minutes. Turn the steaks using a fork, and cook for another four minutes. Remove from the skillet to a plate covered with paper towels.

1 c peanut butter (smooth or crunchy); if allergic to peanuts, use soy or sun nut butter
½ c water
2-3 garlic cloves, finely minced (up to 1 T)
up to 4 T hot sauce
½ - 1 t salt
1 T sugar, preferably brown sugar
juice of one lime
½ zucchini, sliced into rounds and then into matchsticks
½ red pepper, cut in half and then into matchsticks (save the remaining half for Friday’s dinner)
1 pound of your favorite pasta, any shape, but long noodles like linguine or fettuccine are best.
¼ c salt
While the pork steaks are cooking, heat a large pot of water; add ¼ c salt; when the water is boiling, add the pasta or noodles, and cook until done, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Peanut Sauce: Place the first seven ingredients in a large serving bowl and stir to blend; if sauce is too thick, add some of the pasta cooking water to loosen. When cooked, transfer noodles to the peanut butter mixture, and stir to coat; add the matchstick zucchini and red bell pepper. Serve as a bed or side for the pork steaks.

½ small watermelon, peeled, seeded and cubed into ½” pieces
½ c cilantro leaves
¼ c balsamico
½ t salt
10 grinds black pepper
Combine all five ingredients in a large bowl; stir/toss to combine ingredient flavors. Serve as a side to the pork steaks and noodles.

Any leftovers make great lunches


You can prepare the salmon the night before and refrigerate it if you want cold fish. The poaching liquid is known as a court bouillon.
1 lb salmon, divided into ¼ lb portions
3 bay leaves
1 t salt
1 T black peppercorns, or 2 t ground black pepper
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
Place salmon fillets in a frying pan. Add water to just cover. Add the bay leaves, salt and pepper, and turn on heat to high. When the water reaches a boil, turn the heat down to a simmer, and continue cooking for about 10 minutes, until salmon fillets are cooked through. Remove fillets from the water and drain on paper towels. Remove skin, and chill salmon if desired, or leave at room temperature while you make the salad.

See instructions for Monday’s salad; if you want a heartier salad, you can add cheese, nuts, or fruit, but since these are optional, they are not included in the shopping or ingredient list.

With leftovers, make a salmon hash with fried potatoes and onions for breakfast.

All of this should have been done on Monday; just remove from the fridge and serve on the freshly cooked rice.

1 lb London Broil, pan-seared and cooled, sliced
3 cloves finely minced garlic (about 1T)
1 medium onion, cut in half, then in half moons
1 jalapeno chile, seeds and membrane removed, finely diced
1 c chopped cilantro
½ c red wine vinegar
1 T salt
Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Allow flavors to marinate for at least 24 hours.

One large English cucumber, halved, seeds removed, and sliced into half moons
Juice of one lime
1 T sugar
1 t salt
Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Allow the flavors to marinate for at least 24 hours.

2 cups rice
1 T salt
4 cups water
1 bay leaf
Combine all three ingredients in a pot with a tight fitting lid. Bring to a boil with lid on the pot. Reduce heat to a low simmer without removing lid, and cook for another 20 minutes. Remove lid, check tenderness of the rice, and continue cooking until kernels are tender.

To serve: Place two ½ c mounds of cooked rice on each plate. Spoon the Beef Salad onto one mound, and the Cucumber Salad onto the second mouth.

Leftovers salads are great for lunch. The leftover rice should be retained for Friday’s dinner. If you make even more rice, it freezes really well, and will save time and energy in the future.

These soft tacos are adaptable to any number of ingredients.

1 lb pork steaks, trimmed from the bone, with most of the fat removed, cut into ¼” strips
2.5 red bell peppers, cut longitudinally into ¼” strips
2 medium onions, halved and cut longitudinally into ¼” slivers
¼ c hot sauce
¼ c balsamico
1 t salt
20 grinds of pepper (or about ½ t)
6 T peanut oil, separated
12 flour tortillas
Combine the pork strips, hot sauce, balsamic, salt and pepper, mixing to combine; ideally, this can be done the night before. Head a large skillet on high heat. When hot, add 2T peanut oil. When hot, add the pork strips to the skillet, and cook as a stir fry, continually moving the strips until they are cooked and slightly browned. Remove the cooked strips to a bowl. Add an additional 2T peanut oil, and the onions; cook until the onions are limp and slightly browned/caramelized. Remove the onions to a bowl. Add the final 2T peanut oil, and the peppers; cook until the peppers are limp; remove to a bowl.

2 c cooked rice (from Thursday night)
1 ear sweet corn, completely husked, kernels cut from the cob
1 red bell pepper, finely diced
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic
¼ c cilantro leaves
1 lime
2 T peanut oil
In the skillet used to cook the pork, over medium heat, add 2T peanut oil. When hot, add the onions and red bell peppers, and cook until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and corn, and cook until the garlic is aromatic, about three minutes. Add the rice, stir to combine, and continue cooking until hot. Add the juice of one lime, and the cilantro, and remove to a bowl.

½ small watermelon, peeled, seeded and cubed into ½” pieces
1 jalapeno, halved, seeds and membranes removed, cut into fine mince
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 lime, juiced
½ t salt
Combine all of the ingredients, and stir to evenly distribute all ingredients.

To serve: place three flour tortillas on each plate. Evenly divide the pork strips on all tortillas. Evenly divide the rice on each tortilla. Evenly divide the watermelon salsa on each tortilla. Enjoy!

You can increase the proportions of all of the parts in order to create leftovers for burritos or quesadillas for lunches

The above recipes are extremely flexible. They emphasize techniques rather than specific ingredients, so give them a try, adapt them to your own palate, and become a Master of your kitchen.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

All the Single Ladies: Dana Joy Altman of Real Food Rehab's Alternative Meal Plan

This is the next installment in our alternative menu plans for the Let's Cook series. The first was a family-friendly plan from California's Michelle Stern. This second one comes from closer to home.

Dana Joy Altman is the writer and creatrix behind Real Food Rehab, a blog committed to authentic living and eating. She believes that cultivating a deep understanding of who you are and what you value are key ingredients in the recipe for a rich and beautiful life.

Dana Joy founded the culinary public relations firm, a better place media relations, inc. and served as Assistant Manager of Chicago’s Green City Market under the late, great Abby Mandel. In addition to Real Food Rehab, she writes a weekly food and drink column on The Possessionista and is the author of The Pantry Essentials Guide - a real food guide to the grocery store. She also created and leads the popular exercise class, Dance It Off!

I really love this meal plan for single folks and families alike. It shows that cooking isn't always about long, involved recipes but can instead be about one killer sauce or an awesome salad dressing especially when you use top-notch, fresh from the farm ingredients.

I'm a single gal and I work from home so, on average and with the exception of dining out, I have the luxury of preparing my own meals two or three times a day. Some of you may think I must be joking - luxury? But I'm dead serious. I do consider it a luxury to prepare my own meals. Why? Because I never have to question the quality of my food since I source it. I never have to compromise on what I feel like eating because it's me I'm satisfying. I also welcome the chance to break up a day spent inside my head in front of a computer, to get back into my body and work with my hands in an intuitive, tactile and sensual way.

Right now, as I'm writing this, I'm actually making a breakfast of Eggs en Cocotte. Sound elaborate and fancy? It's three ingredients, took me 2 minutes to prepare and will be ready-to-eat, out of the oven in 15 minutes. That, accompanied by a piece of great toast, is the most beautiful breakfast a girl could ask for.


I think a lot of women still carry the unfortunate stigma around being single and cooking for themselves. For some it brings to mind the image of a lonely spinster shuffling around her kitchen weeping into her biscuits. There's this cultural impression that we should keep up with the new, hot place or thing, be ambitious in the workplace, go to yoga class, fluff and preen and find that man! Wow, does that ever make me tired. I guess I'm at a place where keeping up is no longer appealing or authentic to me. And while I do enjoy a good night out, cultivating domesticity is one of my greatest pleasures. I think cooking for oneself is downright sexy; it connotes a beautiful act of self-care.

I want to clarify that I am not chopping a million ingredients and toiling endlessly in the kitchen every day. Do I have days when the thought of preparing anything is anathema to me? You betcha. I am not above having chips and wine for dinner. It's a guilt-free good time as long as it's an occasional thing and I'm eating good chips and drinking good wine.

I believe in sourcing the very best quality food I can afford. That means I shop farmers' markets in season, and supplement with trips to Whole Foods and smaller, independent food shops. Yes, it is more expensive but I like to feel (and look) good. That's my first priority! I don't like to put foods in my body that have been unnecessarily modified or treated with chemicals. Also, my time is valuable to me and I'd much rather spend it shopping outdoors and from people who are consciously sourcing, growing and handcrafting my food from scratch. I realize this may sound precious and elitist to some but hey, you spend a good amount of money to buy nice clothes and drive a nice car, don't you? In my heart I believe our health is dependent on what we eat and what we think and that's about it. There's nothing precious or elitist about that.

I also make a habit to always keep foods I love and ones that truly satisfy me in my fridge and pantry. This way, even when I don't feel like cooking, at the very least I can throw together a great snack or meal in a snap. After years of denying myself the foods I really love and suffering the tortured consequences, I am committed to enjoying and feeling nurtured by the foods I eat. I don't want to eat anything that's mediocre and I don't have a problem compromising on quantity, but I will not sacrifice quality.

I've found the foods that satisfy me the most have fat in them. I love full fat yogurt, cheese and butter. I adore an occasional croissant. I am mad about skin on chicken thighs and well-marbled steak. And I'm happy to say, they love me back. I am a walking testament to the fact that they alone, do not make you fat.

I also believe it's important to rethink old notions about what you should and shouldn't eat. If you are eating lots of processed, low fat, low calorie foods out of fear because you think you should, I urge you to stop. Because I believe you know, somewhere deep down, that they're not really satisfying you. Let yourself have what it is you really want. Just make sure you either make it yourself from great ingredients or source the very best version of it you can find.

So let me give you an example of what's on rotation right now Chez Dana: I am all about eating as much summer fruit as possible. Breakfast can be a blended smoothie, a bowl of granola, fruit and yogurt, or eggs and toast. It's also easy to improvise when you keep great ingredients around. I recently threw this together for breakfast and it was killer: sliced peaches, bacon, and a slice of Capriole's Mt. St Francis goat cheese on a warm croissant.


I love to eat big salads for lunch. I buy whatever vegetables look good at the market, slice them up and toss them together with some homemade dressing. My salad is usually accompanied by a little protein: it could be leftover chicken or steak from the night before, boiled egg, pickled herring (love the stuff) or a few slices of andouille sausage from Paulina Market. Today it was really warm and all I felt like eating were Jupiter grapes from fruit farmer Mick Klug, Marcona almonds and a slice of Manchego.


For dinner a couple nights a week, I will light wood burning coals in my barbecue and grill a steak, lamb shoulder or a bunch of marinated chicken thighs, eat some and save the rest for the next days meals. Last night I made a salad of lettuces, soft boiled egg, bacon and red wine vinaigrette alongside a bowl of smashed fingerling potatoes with butter, garlic, herbs and salt. I also love pasta with sautéed greens, garlic and olive oil. These are all simple, quick and manageable meals that can be prepared in 30 minutes or less.


Examples of snacks that also double as last minute meals in my home are prosciutto and melon, cheese, crackers, and fruit, pickled veggies with bread and butter, and sometimes kettle chips dipped into my homemade tzatziki. A good piece of chocolate or some fruit drizzled with fresh cream and honey is always a great dessert.

Eating well is about first listening to what your body really wants, keeping your fridge and pantry stocked with foods you love and learning a few skills in the kitchen to help make the food at home that really satisfies you. There are scads of information online, in books, YouTube videos and classes near you that can help you get there.

I also wrote a Pantry Essentials Guide that helps you easily find the best products in the grocery store. I am also available to answer any questions you have, so please email me at
blog design by brooksiedesign