Category Archives: Simple Meals

Quick delicious meals

Smoked Salmon Tartine

Smoked Salmon Tartine

This is one of my “fast food” lunch favorites – a smoked salmon tartine,  essentially a fancy word for an open-faced sandwich, which came into play in recent years with the renown of the Bar Tartine bakery in San Francisco and its bestselling cookbook, Tartine.

It requires no advance preparation, as long as you have smoked salmon on hand, which I often do, owing to the fact that salmon freezes easily. Pick up a few 4 oz. packets, throw them in the freezer, then pop them into the fridge the night before to defrost.

To prepare this dish, simply fine dice some red onions, toast some bread and spread them with cream cheese. I love capers and onion so that definitely goes on next, but you could also sprinkle some dill, chives or however you prefer to dress your smoked salmon.  Last, drape the smoked salmon across the toast, squeeze lots of lemon over it and serve with lightly dressed spring  greens.

This dish takes less than 10 minutes to make, no more than it would take to fry some eggs, and it’s rich in the omega-3 fatty acids people like Dr. Oz are always telling you to eat. It’s also low in calories, even with the bread and cream cheese, since there’s only 100 calories in the salmon, so it clocks in under 500 calories per serving.

Smoked Salmon Tartine
serves 2

4 oz. Smoked salmon
4 3 oz. slices bread
2 oz. cream cheese
1/2 lemon, cut into 4 wedges
Red onion, small dice, 2 oz
Capers, 2 tsp.
Mixed greens, 2 cups
EVOO, sprinkled to taste, around 1/2 tsp.
White wine vinegar, sprinkled to taste, around 1/4 tsp.
Salt and pepper

Toast the bread
Spread with cream cheese
Press the red onions and capers into the bread
Drape the salmon across the toast
Meanwhile, toss greens oil, vinegar, s/p to taste
Serve with lemon wedges and salad




Citrus-infused Beet Tacos

No Bull at Bullhead

I love a simple menu with a clear focus. And that’s what you get at Bullhead Cantina, the Rogers Park incarnation of “Paco” Ruiz’s popular whisky and taco bar in Humboldt Park—tacos, more tacos and not a lot else. Not that you need more choices when so many tacos options abound, with equal billing given to both vegetarian and meaty fillings. Meat-lovers will enjoy fresh riffs on traditional standbys, such as carnitas cooked in banana leaves or brisket melted into tender shreds, while vegetarians will love such unusual combinations as braised kale with stone-corn grits, sweet potatoes with lime-avocado cream or citrus-infused roasted beet tacos.

I discovered this place as part of my morning walk. Like many other like-minded winter hibernators, hordes of us walkers, joggers and shorts-wearing rebels were on the streets paying homage to the call of “spring forward” announced by our atomic clocks. Busting my boots through the stubborn slivers of thin ice still clinging to the remnants of winter puddles scattered on the sidewalks, I noticed a fresh restaurant occupying the ever-changing tenancy of the corner just northwest of the Red line Morse stop. Quickly, hopefully, I glanced at the menu. While perusing its contents, it dawned on me that I was realizing a dream I didn’t even know I had, one of a local taco joint appearing in my neighborhood where one could peacefully drink margaritas made from fresh limes and munch on artful tacos wrapped in homemade tortillas.

Bullhead Cantina, I discovered, is the second location of Chef/owner Francisco “Paco” Ruiz, Kendall College alum, who apprenticed in Italy and ran a tequila bar in Bucktown before shifting gears to whisky, tacos, craft beers and cocktails. Still, there are plenty of margarita options on the menu. We tried the original version, always a good starting point—a thirst-quenching mug of fresh-lime mix and tequila, and look forward to trying the smoky mescal and pomegranate varieties on future neighborhood “walks.”

My reason to return was the Kale and Grits

Hands down, my favorite taco and reason to return was the kale and grits, and I say that with an entirely straight face. Bullhead also seems to do a great job with braised meats – we liked the carnitas, brisket and pulled pork tacos, all lovingly braised low and slow and bathed in flavorful sauces and rubs. But more than anything, I’d say we just liked the variety. There are frequent taco specials planned– such as the corned beef and pickled cabbage taco rumored to debut on St. Patrick’s day and fish and chip tacos for Lenten Fridays during the coming weeks.

Bullhead Cantina, 1406 W Morse Ave, Chicago, IL, Cash only.

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Make your own Granola

Why make your own Granola?

As my “DIY Cooking” philosophy expands,  I’ve gradually been replacing store-bought items with homemade versions of them, granola being a prime example. It all started with my love for Milk and Honey Granola, made by a local Chicago food company that inspired me to make my own.

Cost/Benefit Analysis of Homemade Granola

Before deciding to DIY any food product at home, I do an intuitive cost/benefit analysis that goes something like this:

  • Will it taste measurably better?
  • Is it simple to make?
  • Is it something I eat often enough that it’s worth the trouble?
  • Will I save money?

And the answers to all these questions are a resounding yes!

Especially if you eat granola almost everyday, which I do, as part of my weekday automated breakfast routine.

Eat it with Yogurt and Berries

It’s really good with yogurt and fruit. We drain the yogurt to make it thicken and then add fresh berries or frozen raspberries and the granola.  A little bit goes a long way.

Granola Mama Recipe

Homemade granola is not just for hippies and Whole Foods shoppers with big budgets. It's easy to make at home and tastes better than fancy in-store brands. You can leave out the flax seeds and quinoa if you don't have any - I added them to add fiber and other whole grain nutrients.
  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 2 T flaxseed (optional)
  • 2 T quinoa (optional)
  • 1/4 cup pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds), or other nuts
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ginger powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Pinch of garam masala (optional)
  • 1/4 cup mix of golden raisin, dried cranberries, and currants, or any dried fruit
  • Preheat oven to 325° F
  • Melt honey and water together and let cool
  • In big silver bowl, fold together rolled oats, quinoa, flaxseed, pepitas, honey mixture, oil, brown sugar, vanilla, ginger, cinnamon, salt and garam masala
  • Pour into unlined, ungreased 1/2 sheet pan (cookie sheet)
  • Spread evenly so there are no bald spots on the pan or it may burn
  • Bake, stirring and flattening every 10 minutes until very golden brown, 30-35 minutes; let cool slightly
  • Mix in the dried fruit. Let cool completely
  • Store at room temperature for up to three week
Serving size: 1 oz Calories: 73 Fat: 3 g Saturated fat: 0 Unsaturated fat: 3 g Trans fat: 0 Carbohydrates: 11 g Sugar: 5 g Sodium: 61 mg Protein: 1 g

Linguini with Green Beans, Pistachio Pesto and Red Potatoes

I was nearly out of ingredients, but I knew from past experience that the dish for tonight was somewhere hidden in my kitchen, just waiting to be discovered. I looked at what I did have – green beans, still as bright as the day I bought them, and basil, remnants from the bunch I’d bought a few days earlier for a lunchtime Caprese salad –a purchase made in ode to the irresistible allure of tomatoes smelling  like tomatoes.

An idea then struck me – wasn’t there a pasta dish in Italy from Liguria consisting of green beans, potatoes and pesto? A quick Google search for “Liguria green beans pesto” brought up a Wikepedia name for my thought – Trenette, apparently a type of pasta, but also code for the very green bean, pasta and pesto dish I’d divined.

I got to work. I pulled out the giant mortar and pestle, and started smashing garlic with some parmesan. Next came the basil leaves, a few at a time, punctuating grinds with dribbles of olive oil and then, seeing the bright green color, threw in some pistachios, in lieu of pine nuts, to emphasize the beauty of the green.

While this worked, I brought some salty water to a boil, and started slicing red potatoes and pinching stems off green beans. I sliced a little basil chiffonade for good measure and prepared to pull the whole thing together. Next, I looked up the meaning of trenette and visually observing its similarity to linguini, used that instead.

At last there it was, green creamy sauce, clinging to swirls of pasta nicely raveled together, punctuated by bits of green beans and potatoes lightly slathered in a green veil of pesto. I topped it off with a fresh shaving of Parmigiano-Reggiano, basil chiffonade, freshly ground pepper and a drizzle of my best extra-virgin olive oil. Ah, did it again – pulled out the dish from the pantry!

Flageolet, Feta and Arugula Salad

Flageolet, Feta and Arugula Salad

It was time for beans – yes beans once again. Part duty, part pleasure, my healthy eating regimen prods me at least once a week to peer into my pantry, choose a bean, and make something healthy out of it.

“What in the heck are flageolets?”

This time, I peaked in and found a bag of flageolets, stamped with the reassuring label from the bulk bin section at Whole Foods. “What in the heck are flageolets?” I wondered, having no memory of why I bought them. A quick Internet search revealed that they are a type of white bean, prized by the French in a manner similar to the reverence held for Le Puy lentils. Sounds goods, I thought, and then immediately recalled the baby arugula in my fridge and how those two could pair together in my attempt to duplicate the wonderful arugula and white bean salad they sell at the Sopraffina Marketcafe in Chicago as part of their lunchtime antipasto trio selection.

Sopraffina Marketcafe’s Killer Dish

Flavor memories of the dish flooded my mind –the zing of the lemon, crunch and herbaceous notes from the celery, and the salty tang from the occasional fleck of feta. With these thoughts in mind I cooked the beans, set them aside and later quickly tossed a bean salad that come out even better than my memory of that famed Soprafinna version.

Here’s my take on a Flageolet, Feta and Arugula Salad

You can substitute Cannellini or Great Northern or any other white beans for the Flageolets.


  • Flageolet Beans, 1.5 cup cooked (1/2 cup dried)
  • Lemon zest, minced, 1 tsp.
  • Lemon juice, 2 T
  • Red pepper flakes, pinch, to taste
  • EVOO, 2 T
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
  • Red onion, finely diced, ¼ cup
  • Celery, finely diced, ¼ cup
  • Celery leaves, chopped, 2 T
  • Arugula, small handful, about ½ cup, loosely packed
  • Feta, 1 T, small dice


  • Cook the beans, use some from a can
  • When beans are cool, add to a bowl and toss with lemon zest, lemon juice, red pepper flakes, extra-virgin olive oil, red onion, celery and celery leaves
  • Season to taste with salt and pepper
  • Right before serving, add arugula and toss until it wilts slightly
  • Toss with feta and serve