Ciao: a south suburban Chicago old-school Italian place

My wife spent part of her youth in Chicago’s southern suburbs and her parents still live there. We often journey from our northern suburban home to meet them for dinner there and I’m always taken by the vast array of restaurants that I think of as old-school places down there as opposd to the fancier, nouvelle places we have closer to home.

By old-school, I mean places with classic dishes at good prices. Nothing fancy or new wave, which is just fine with me. These are the sort of restaurants that truly give you more value for your money. We recently went to one such place, Ciao, for my mother-in-law’s birthday and the food did not disappoint. The service was very slow. We were warned at the start though, seem the place is trying to get more help to deal with its weekend crowds.

My 10-ounce filet at Ciao.

My 10-ounce filet at Ciao.

Ciao in Palos Hills, Il., is a throwback to the Italian restaurants of my youth in New York. You walk in, Frank Sinatra is singing, what more could you ask for? The owners are there, so you know who is watching the food quality and service levels. It’s Italian comfort food with some new twists. Continue reading

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Fennel: a fun food that fits in most any diet

Fennel was one of the fun foods of my Italian-American youth. We’d eat it raw, like celery, while playing New York’s many street sports in those days or just watching TV. It was also a fixture of our Thanksgiving table, again served raw and quartered as a palate cleanser before dessert came to the table.

Fennel at Trader Joe's is a convenient package. Fennel is normally a fall product but many stores now stock it year-round.

Fennel at Trader Joe’s is a convenient package. Fennel is normlaly a fall product but many stores now stock it year-round.

In recent years, I’ve also cooked fennel and served it as a fun side dish. First I trim off the frowns and longer stalks, and the center top, which tends to be dirty and tough. I then boil the fennel until it softens and then transfer the quarters to a cookie sheet, sprinkle on low-salt panko breadcrumbs and put under the broiler for a bit to brown. You also can add low-fat, or fat-free cheese. Continue reading

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Thomas’s multigrain English muffins: a tasty low-salt alternative

Bread is one of the biggest carriers of evil salt in our daily diets. If you’re trying to eliminate salt as I have been since my angioplasty, you’ve likely given up breads, indeed baked goods, of all kinds.

Thomas' multigrain English muffins

Thomas’ multigrain English muffins

I have found one alternative, a whole wheat, salt-free bread at Trader Joe’s that I use in my Thanksgiving stuffing now. But I miss baked goods terribly, so I’m always on the lookout for other options. Continue reading

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Eggplant Couscous

John N. Frank:

Looks tasty and I always enjoy a good eggplant dish.

Originally posted on Dinner of Herbs:

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This dish took a different turn than expected, but I believe it became much better than the original.

Originally, I was supposed to roast zucchini, onion, and tomatoes and add it to couscous with feta, basil, and lemon.  I’m sure that would have been tasty, but I decided I wanted more roasted eggplant.

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Then I did not really feel in the mood for a lemony flavour…..and soon the feta was completely forgotten.  Instead, the roasted eggplant took center stage.

No regrets.

The Recipe

Ingredients

4 servings whole wheat couscous

1 small red onion, peeled and chopped

1 large eggplant, peeled and diced

2 large roma tomatoes, quartered

garlic powder

extra virgin olive oil

sweet basil

Servings: 4-6 servings

Heat oven to 500oF.  Toss eggplant and tomato in olive oil and garlic powder and spread evenly on baking sheet.  Cover with aluminum foil loosely, and bake for half an…

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Wild catch coho salmon

John N. Frank:

I love salmon and have written about it several times on my blog. I’ll have to ad this recipe to my low-salt recipe page, thanks.

Originally posted on Over the Salt:

It is that lovely time of year when Coho salmon is fresh-caught and available in the local market, along with fresh local greens. Refrigerated, but not frozen, the salmon bakes up in just twenty minutes for a medium rare salmon steak. This is my second week enjoying it with a light salad and smashed yellow potatoes. Seasonal and delicious, both wins.

Medium rare coho salmon over potatoes with green salad. Photo by Ria Loader

Medium rare coho salmon over potatoes with green salad. Photo by Ria Loader

Ingredients

Salmon
Butter lettuce
Tiny tomatoes, halved
White baslamic infused with peaches and citrus
Yellow potatoes, steamed, mashed

Cooking

Oven at 350 degrees
Salmon steak with lemon zest, mango puree and pepper
Bake for 15-20 minutes

Rough slice butter lettuce
Slice tomatoes in half
Drizzle with white baslamic infused with peach / citrus
(white baslamic will do okay. Add some zest to taste)

I added a scone sliced in half as I had made those the…

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Steelhead trout: a variation better than the norm?

Fish has become a major part of my post-angioplasty diet. But no matter how good they are, salmon, ahi tuna and trout getting repetitious, so I’m always looking for new species to try. One that I enjoy is steelhead trout, a variation of the rainbow trout so prevalent in Midwest fish markets and supermarket fish counters.

Steelhead trout served simply with lemon on the side.

Steelhead trout served simply with lemon on the side.

Steelhead spend part of their lives in the ocean and part in rivers, unlike rainbow trout which are river and stream dwellers. Steelhead is pinkish in color, causing many to confuse it with salmon (and I would think causing some unscrupulous retailers and restaurants to pass it off as salmon). But it’s not as fatty as salmon, nor quite as boney or fishy tasting as rainbow trout.

I tend to cook it as I do trout, however, which is to pan broil it in lemon juice, a very simple preparation that infuses it with lemon flavor.

Coat the pan with a spray olive oil to avoid sticking and put the fish in once the pan has heated. I cook it for a few minutes before adding the lemon juice and letting it poach a bit in that (cover the pan as this point). I just use a dash or two of juice, find the level you enjoy and go for it.

Start it in a  pan coated with a spray olive oil.

Start it in a pan coated with a spray olive oil.


Then add lemon juice and poach a bit by covering the pan.

Then add lemon juice and poach a bit by covering the pan.

Eight ounces of steelhead has 12 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat and 80 mgs of sodium.
Enjoy
John

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The pub food challenge: welcome to the Valley Lodge Tavern

In addition to my food blog, I also write and co-produce plays with my wife. We’re in the midst of rehearsals for my newest play right now, Talking with My Dad, and so we’re doing some cast bonding that recently included going out to eat after a Sunday rehearsal.

I had checked the menu of the place we were going, the Valley Lodge Tavern in Wilmette, Il., before we went and knew there was nothing on it I could order on my low-salt, low-fat post-angioplasty diet The place is an offshoot of the long-time fixture Valley Lodge in Glenview, Il., where I had many a tasty fish lunch years back when I worked nearby.

My plain tilapia and squash at the Valley Lodge Tavern, Wilmette.

My plain tilapia and squash at the Valley Lodge Tavern, Wilmette.

This new location didn’t list any plain fish options, but it did have some fish dishes I thought I might be able to get a bit plainer. A special the night we went was tilapia, covered in something I couldn’t eat. So I asked the waiter if I could just have plain tilapia and he said of course, which was very nice. I also got a squash side dish which I asked be cooked with no salt and no sauce. Continue reading

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Levant: a Portland (OR) find on our recent vacation

My wife and I took a recent vacation to the West Coast, starting in Seattle and then journeying to Portland where my daughter has settled down these days.

Meeting her for dinner our first night in Portland presented her with a logistical challenge: I am on a low-salt, low-fat, low-sugar diet, and her boyfriend is a vegan.Where could we eat that would satisfy us both, as well as being tasty for my daughter and my wife?

Her answer was a fun place not far from where she lives called Levant, which describes itself as French-Arabesque “serving modern representations of Middle Eastern dishes.”

An amazing beet salad at Levant in Portland, OR.

An amazing beet salad at Levant in Portland, OR.

My daughter had been there before but apparently the menu had changed by the time we went with her. The four of us ended up ordering a variety of appetizers, salads and side dishes to create our own small plate extravaganza. Continue reading

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The salt demons start grabbing us early in life, new study finds

Salt has become one of the evil triangle of foods in my life, along with fat and sugar, since my angioplasty two years ago. Salt is in every processed food we eat, and especially so in snack and baked foods.

Pepperidge Farm Goldfish, once considered a healthy snack, really aren't for me.

Pepperidge Farm Goldfish, once considered a healthy snack, are one of many packed with salt. Read labels when buying for your children, and yourself.

So I wasn’t surprised by a recent headline I saw, Kids’ Food Cravings Mean Diet Too High in Salt, CDC Says.

“Kids love pizza, bologna, cheese and chicken nuggets. U.S. public health officials don’t like the salt in those foods and say a diet dominated by them may harm children’s future health,” the Bloomberg story notes. And the news just gets worse. Continue reading

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spicy garlic dilly beans

John N. Frank:

These sounds great, but I would leave off the salt.

Originally posted on radish*rose:

Do you love green beans? Me too! These are a crunchy fresh green bean flavor bomb of garlicy, vinegary, dilly goodness – yet they are low in fat and salt. Healthy eating does not have to be boring! The first time I made these, I had a handful and my husband ate the rest of A WHOLE POUND of beans, he loved them so much! (A pound of green beans is kiiiind of a lot for one person. LOL. He’s awesome.) The nice thing is, you can make these ahead and/or make a ton, because the longer they sit in the marinade, the more imbued with flavor they become. A great addition to your fresh appetizer, picnic, or tapas table, or to accompany a healthy wrap or sandwich! Or just eat ‘em standing up in the kitchen. They’re that good.
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DILLY BEANS
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