Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Power To The Pantry: Introducing The Pantry Essentials Guide

Dear Readers,

Perhaps you've noticed that quality, authenticity, satisfaction, beauty and pleasure are all running themes of Real Food Rehab. And perhaps you've been subtly sparked by some of the ideas here and hopefully it's added to your life in good ways.

As many of you know, I began doing in-home kitchen makeovers and cooking lessons this year and it's definitely a life-changing experience for those who can afford it. But since it is my mission to educate and inspire others to experience the pleasures and life-giving effects of Real Food, it was important for me to develop something that could be available to everyone. So, I wrote The Real Food Rehab Pantry Essentials Guide. It's an indispensable tool for stocking your kitchen with an arsenal of high quality ingredients and storage staples for making healthy and delicious meals. The Guide is divided into four sections: Foundation Ingredients, Baking Basics, Perishable Staples and Ethnic Staples and is perfect for beginners and accomplished cooks alike. The Pantry Essentials Guide is also completely committed to sustainable, chemical-free food choices which you'll see reflected in the many suggestions throughout its pages.

The Guide is 9 pages of detailed descriptions and includes recipes, kitchen tips, web resources and brand recommendations. It's designed to create more pleasure, health, ease and satisfaction in the kitchen. It also includes checklists for each section that can be printed out and taken to the grocery store. And I should note, it's a guide to be experimented with over time; It might help to start by stocking the Foundation Ingredients first, along with some of the Perishable Staples and work from there.

The Guide is only $9.95 and can be purchased HERE or by clicking the orange link at the top right of the blog. The Guide is in a printable PDF format and gets sent to you via email.

Lastly, I want you to know how committed I am to what I do: I have chosen time and time again not to place ads and links that don't jibe with the values of Real Food Rehab and equally important, I want your experience on this site to be aesthetically beautiful. I take into careful consideration everything that goes up and that it meets the standards of beauty I preach here so often. Do I want to make money? Absolutely, but I want to do it by being true to myself, to you, and only offering things of value.

I do believe with all my heart that beautiful food is your birthright and I hope that my Pantry Essentials Guide will make a difference for you and those you love and feed around your table.

Thank you so much for being here,

Dana Joy

Monday, October 26, 2009

Save the Deli

Not too long ago I discovered an article on the Atlantic Food Channel called Why I Want To Save The Deli. It was written by journalist and deli expert, David Sax, who was coming out with a new book called Save the Deli. The article spoke to me in a language I completely understood; it triggered something in me - a call to action - and strong sense memories from my own past, so I called his publicist right away for an advance copy of the book.

Save the Deli chronicles David's travels throughout the United States as well as Canada and Europe in search of authentic delicatessen. He documents the histories, the characters, the food and how it's made in glorious, mouth-watering detail. He also discovers where it's still thrives, where it's in decline, and where to go for particular dishes. It's part history, part travelogue and the Food and Yiddish Appendix in the back is worth the price alone.

What I love about the book is that it's written with such enthusiasm and heart! He captures the very essence of deli culture - the intoxicating smells, the one of a kind flavors, the tumult, the noise, the wise-cracking waitresses - which is a huge part of the Jewish experience that I knew and loved growing up. It wasn't until I read this book that I realized that as deli culture dies, a piece of my own history dies along with it. I want to save the deli too!

A little background: I grew up in Chicago with a grandfather from Kiev, Russia, who would take me to the original Ashkenaz Deli and Romanian Deli, both in Roger's Park. I would hand-pick my own new pickle from a giant barrel (a ritual inconceivable today in a culture dependent on sanitizer gel) and stand in line and order a hand-sliced corned beef sandwich from the countermen who knew my grandparents by name. My father used to take me to the old Berwyn Fisheries on Sunday where they smoked everything in-house and we'd take home fresh rye, bagels, smoked chubs (whitefish), sable and sturgeon. I will never forget the smell in that place - it was like breathing ice, smoke, fat and fish all in one breath. Pure heaven. So, I'm a die-hard deli lover if there ever was one.

And I have to say it breaks my heart that most children today haven't been indoctrinated into this world of deli foods and smoked fish. How can you thrive on a diet of chicken fingers? I mean really? And what kind of person do you become when you're exposed to such a narrow spectrum of foods and homogenous eating experiences? (I'll save this topic for another post)

Anyway, I had the chance to interview David last week while he was on his book tour. He'd just gotten back from a morning visit to the White House! While there, he discovered that feet away from our President's inner sanctum, in the office of special adviser, David Axelrod, are three photographs from Manny's Delicatessen here in Chicago including a shot of a knish and pastrami sandwich and one of the legendary counterman, Gino. They were sandwiched (pardon the pun) next to photos of Mr. Axelrod with various world leaders! Is that a hoot or what? It's amazing what deli can do.

I feel like deli is a part of my personal history and I am nostalgic about it but bottom line; I'd be devastated if I couldn't get a bowl of matzo ball soup or a great corned beef sandwich with chopped liver on a whim. To me, that would be a huge loss. So how do you save the deli? This is where our interview begins:

RFR: How do you hook a whole new generation on to deli food?

DAVID SAX: I don't see it being any different from Southern Barbecue or something like that. If you told people ten years ago there'd be this rash of new Southern hipster barbecue joints they'd say, "Whaddya crazy? Barbecue?" The difficult thing is, a lot of delis open up and say, "It's going to be like old New York, it's going to be like delis used to be", and there's only so much you can do with a nostalgic bent and I think when you do that you don't necessarily capture that younger generation. You're selling it to the older generation.

I think for the places that are going to save the deli, they're going to be the ones who bring it into the new and they're not going to do it with wasabi meatballs or sliders, they're simply going to do it by being true to themselves and by raising the level of quality; going back to the way that things were prepared, without pandering to that same sense of lost history. They don't need photos of old New York or Maxwell Street on the wall, but they do need to cure their own stuff and stop bringing stuff in from outside. People from our generation who love food, they respect that more than anything. That's the best hope we have right now. And there are only a few places around the country that are doing it that way. I think we'll see more of it in the coming years, I hope to; because delis have tried to branch out and franchise and it took away from their soul and detracted from the original locations. They also tried to open it up to other types of food which drained away the authenticity of it and hurt the traditional foods. You can't claim to make matzo balls and deep dish pizza really well, you've got to pick one or the other.

RFR: So who's doing great quality, artisanal deli in the States?

DAVID SAX: The most interesting one I saw is Kenny & Zuke's out of Portland, Oregon. It's two guys, one was a food blogger, the other one owned a restaurant. One said to the other, "Hey, there's no good pastrami in Portland, whaddya say we make a good pastrami and sell it at the farmers' market and see if it sells." So they did and it sold out in ten minutes. The next week they came back with twice the amount of pastrami and they sold out in twenty minutes. They were smoking it in a barbecue smoker and curing it in barrels. Then they started to do a Deli Brunch at his restaurant and it got so big they decided to do it full time.

They opened up their deli two years ago and it's doing incredibly well. They bake their own bread and bagels every morning in house, they smoke their own pastrami in a smoker with oak that they split with an axe in the basement and even though Kenny is from New York, they don't call themselves a New York-style deli. They're a Jewish delicatessen.

RFR: Have you ever felt as passionately about anything as you do deli? What's next for you?

DAVID SAX: This started out when I was at university, so this has been a passion project for me for a number of years. I knew I was getting into journalism and I always knew I was going to write this book. And what's next is certainly undecided but it's most likely not going to be about Jewish food because I just feel this one really came from the heart and I don't want to do anything just for the sake of, you know, "...now we can capture Jews 18 to 35 who like bagels." I'm not a food writer and I'm not a food critic and there are a lot of people who are and I think what interested me about this wasn't, "Oh this is a better sandwich and this is the best sandwich," it was the culture and the evolution of it and the business and the people that are within it. Maybe it will be something else Jewish, maybe it will be something else entirely. As of now, who knows?


Manny's Delicatessen, Chicago's most famous Jewish Deli, will be hosting a reading with David Sax this Thursday, October 29th at 6pm. Manny's is located at 1141 South Jefferson in Chicago. I will be there so please join me!

Here's the link to David's Blog: http://www.savethedeli.com/

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Flavor Bible

Artists have been my personal heroes for as long as I can remember. I've always been moved by people who devote their lives to creating something unique; something that belongs to them but is also shared with the world for the sake of pleasure.

I consider great cooks to be artists. I'm not only speaking of professional chefs but of everyday folk, who passionately ply their craft in the privacy of their own homes and share it with family and friends. Eating in the home of a great cook, to me, is a thrill and a blessing. Not only do I get to eat great food but it's titillating to watch how other people prepare and serve their food. From their kitchen rituals, to how they chop and garnish - I learn so much in the process. Everyone has their own style and flair and it reminds me that there's more than one right way to do something.

Perhaps that's the problem: so much of our creativity gets shut down because we think that anything that veers from the norm isn't right. I am here to tell you that that is a load of crap. Once you learn the essentials of your craft - whatever it is - you are free to deviate and put your own stamp on it. It takes courage to stay your course - to trust your process and as any creative person will tell you, it's when you allow yourself to let go, to get messy and allow mistakes to happen, that's when things get juicy.

I am a creature of habit. I will do the same thing over and over even when I know it's not working for me, so I like having tools around that aid and abet my creativity and personal freedom.

In the kitchen, having a pantry of high quality ingredients and products that move me is key for allowing me to improvise and create amazing meals. The book The Flavor Bible, by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg, who's cover you see here, is another great tool.

The book is a reference guide to hundreds of ingredients; from apples to zucchini and every herb, spice, spirit and cuisine in between.
Each item has its own description in terms of flavor profile, season, and the best techniques and tips for using it. It also has suggestions and knowledge from some of America's greatest chefs.

But that's hardly the best part.

This book is the kitchen improviser's bible because it lists all the matching flavor affinities for each ingredient! So say you have beets in your fridge and you're not sure what to do with them. Not only will the book give suggestions on cooking them, but it lists all the other flavors, ingredients, herbs and spices that go well with beets in alphabetical order: avocado, Crème Fraîche, mustard, pistachios, walnuts and yogurt to name a few. Then it also lists perfect flavor combinations, such as:

beets + citrus + goat cheese + olive oil + shallots
beets + olive oil + Parmesan cheese + balsamic vinegar
beets + honey + tarragon

Imagine this kind of information listed for every ingredient you can think of!

Just for kicks, here's another example:


chicken + garlic + pancetta + sage + thyme
chicken + cream + grapefruit + pink peppercorns
chicken + coconut + galangal + shiitake mushrooms
chicken + basil + cinnamon

I don't know about you but I find this terribly exciting! These pairings make my mouth water. That's what makes this volume invaluable. Once you've used it for a while, you gain a more natural sense of what goes with what, which will lend itself in numerous creative and tasty ways in your cooking. Learning the essentials and then riffing on that in your own style is precisely what makes a great cook. I think one of the privileges of being human is that we get to develop our style, our character, to know who we are and what we stand for in the scheme of things. Cooking and eating is a beautiful, convivial and tasty way to develop that.

Here's the link if you care to check it out at Amazon:

The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America's Most Imaginative Chefs

Friday, October 16, 2009

Stuffed Asian Cabbage Rolls

Whenever I get bored with my diet, or when I've had too much dairy, meat and starch (which is often), I always turn to Asian flavors to refresh and satisfy my palate. Hot, salty, sour and sweet combined with fresh aromatics like ginger, garlic, mint, basil, cilantro and lime - it always hits the spot.

My introduction to Asian cooking at home was the Nina Simonds book, Asian Noodles - a simple primer for cooking a variety of Pan-Asian soup, salad and noodle classics.

It was this book that began my habit of storing Asian staples in my pantry so I could satisfy my Asian comfort food cravings whenever I wanted. Now I'll just pick up a protein and whatever vegetables I need and come home and make Cinnamon Beef Noodles, Peanut Noodle Salad or Thai Red Curry soup in a pinch.

Just a few of the pantry essentials I keep around are: soy sauce, red curry paste, canned coconut milk, Mirin, a sweet rice wine used for cooking and Thai fish sauce. The words 'fish' and 'sauce' together seem to scare a lot of people but if you love and eat Thai food, you're already enjoying it without realizing it. Fish sauce in Southeast Asia is like salt in America, they season everything with it.

I picked up a copy of Jamie Oliver's new magazine, the eponymously titled, Jamie at the book store this summer and in it were a couple of great looking cabbage recipes including this one. To the plain eye, cabbage is perhaps the least sexy vegetable sitting in the produce aisle, but what a work horse and I love how quietly it carries all the other ingredients without demanding any credit. Kind of like the supporting cast in all those Jennifer Aniston movies. Ouchie.

Anywho, I finally got around to making them this week. I love this recipe and honestly can't wait to make them again. It required little skill, satisfied my craving for Asian flavors, was (is) incredibly healthy and I responded like an excited child to the perfect little packages that fit right in my hand. I also love anything that requires dipping. That said, I think this would make a great snack or lunch or you can double it as a main for dinner. You could pair it with a bowl of steamed rice with chopped scallions and a simple miso soup. Done.

Stuffed Asian Cabbage Rolls from Issue #2 of Jamie Magazine

You will need a food processor for this recipe.

1 white cabbage
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 fresh red chili, halved and seeded
Small bunch cilantro
Thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled (use the back of a spoon to scrape the skin off, it works like a charm)
2 skinless chicken breasts cut into large chunks
soy sauce
rice vinegar
chili oil (see below) to serve


Put a large pan of boiling, salted water on to boil. Peel back the outer leaves on the cabbage. Coax and click off 8 round leaves (it doesn't matter if they tear a little). Core the cabbage, reserving the stalk; chop the cabbage into quarters and set aside.

Drop the 8 leaves into the boiling water for 3 minutes, or until you can pick one up and bend it easily. Remove to a tray to cool down.

Put your garlic, chili, cilantro and ginger into a food processor and whiz for 30 seconds. Ad a pinch of sea salt and the chopped cabbage stalk and pulse for 30 seconds to break it down a bit. Add the chicken and one quarter of the cabbage and pulse it for 30-60 seconds until the flavors combine and you've got a nice coarse chicken mince.

Put a piece of plastic wrap on a board and scoop the mince on to it. Divide it in eight equal amounts.

Grease a large colander or steamer tray (that fits comfortably into a pan) with a bit of chili oil or olive oil. Take a soft cabbage leaf in your hand, scoop one pile of chicken mince in the middle then fold in the sides until you have a closed package. Lay it in the colander with the leaves tucked under. Repeat 7 more times.

Pour a few inches of water into the pan that fits your steamer and put over a medium flame to boil. When the water's boiling, place the colander on top so it fits into the pan and seal with a lid or some foil and steam for about 10 minutes. Do not take the lid off. When time's up, cut one and see if it's cooked through - it will be obvious.

Serve right away with a dipping sauce of equal parts soy sauce and rice vinegar in a little dish. You can also do just soy if that pleases you.

Jamie also suggests a little chili oil which can be bought or made. here's a quick recipe for homemade chili oil:

Buy 2 or 3 different dried chilis at your Asian grocer, remove stems and heat in very hot and dry pan for about 1 minute. Put them in a high powered blender or pulse in the food processor with an inexpensive pint of olive oil and blitz for a minute or two. Keep in a jar in a dark, cool place. Use liberally!

Monday, October 12, 2009

A Meal For The Uninspired

I'm going to be honest. I've been feeling completely uninspired. I haven't been cooking at all. I've been living on grilled cheese and salad, pretzels, tzatziki and beer, an occasional Italian sub sandwich from Bari Foods, sauteed kale and smoothies. My house is also a sty. My house is never a sty. I may as well have farm animals roaming around in here, it's that bad. And the piece d'resistance? I haven't showered in days. There you go; more than you ever wanted to know about me. It happens, right? I'm not perfect.

I'm learning how NOT to be such a control freak. I've had to put all my energy into one thing and let a few other things go. That one thing happens to be my new Pantry Essentials Guide that I'll be offering on this very site in the coming week and it's taken a lot out of me. That's why no post last week, I apologize. It's paying off, though. It's comprehensive and well-designed and I'm very proud of it.

What I've been discovering about myself this year is that I'm a master improviser. I'm not ready for Iron Chef, but I can usually make a great meal out of whatever I have around.

This was my breakfast. It would also make a great lunch or dinner. It's a corn tortilla with melted cheddar, softly scrambled eggs, chopped avocado, a mess of cilantro and a pinch of sea salt. I made three of these and they were incredibly satisfying and took 5 minutes to prepare.

Here's how I did it:

I heated a touch of canola oil in a skillet, sliced some local cheddar on a tortilla and popped it in the skillet until the tortilla got a little crispy and the cheese began to melt. While that cooked, I scrambled some eggs and then tossed them into the tortilla. In addition to the avocado and cilantro, I added some Greek yogurt (porque, no sour cream aquí) and a dab of salsa.

Kids would love these, too. What's not to love?

I keep cilantro in my kitchen almost all the time. For me, it's an essential and very flavorful addition to both Mexican and Asian dishes such as tacos and quesadillas or coconut curries and cucumber salads. I cut the stems, remove any rubber bands and put it in a glass of water covered loosely with a plastic produce bag in the fridge. It lasts quite a while this way.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Klee For A Day

I love the abstract quality of these photos. Sometimes when I'm photographing, I forget they're tomatoes - they become these beautiful blocks of light, color and shape.

I swear my tomato obsession is almost over, but here's what I did today - it's quick, easy and delish. I cut up a bunch of tomatoes into quarter-inch slices and placed them on a baking sheet with a little olive oil and salt (you could do herbs too) and stuck them in the oven at 225 degrees for almost three hours until they looked like fruit leather. I ate a bunch right out of the oven but you can add them to pasta, braised dishes, sauteed veggies, salads or on a bagel and cream cheese - the possibilities are endless. I'm going to store the rest in a jar covered in olive oil in the fridge.