Ciao: a south suburban Chicago old-school Italian place

Ciao 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?

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 “Ciao: a south suburban Chicago old-school Italian place”

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Fennel: a fun food that fits in most any diet

In recent years, I’ve also cooked fennel and served it as a fun side dish.

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 “Fennel: a fun food that fits in most any diet”

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

One muffin has only 160 mgs of salt, 1 gram of sugar and one gram of fat. That’s about a tenth of my daily salt, acceptable for one item in one meal during the day.

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

Eggplant Couscous

Looks tasty and I always enjoy a good eggplant dish.

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

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.

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.

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 previous day

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Steelhead trout: a variation better than the norm?

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.

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

The pub food challenge: welcome to the Valley Lodge Tavern

I have to confess though it is still very difficult for me to go to such places with people who can eat everything I once did but can’t any longer. Luckily that night, the great conversations we were having pulled me out of my malaise about the food situation.

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 “The pub food challenge: welcome to the Valley Lodge Tavern”