Cheryle Finley: Chef’s quest for flavor involves healthy options | Lifestyles

HASnyone lucky enough to know Carthaginian Sandy Higgins knows she is proud of her family, and for good reason. Her granddaughter Zoe Maya Jones-Adubu is a shining example of this pride. A short visit with Zoe and you vividly see her passion for food and health.

After entering the world as the first baby born at the Joplin Freeman Hospital Birthing Center, Zoe’s first intro to cooking came courtesy of her parents’ different cooking styles while growing up in Mexico.

When everyone else declared there’s nothing in the house to eat, mom Janet could whip up a feast from the seemingly slim refrigerator contents. Dad George was a planner who prepared meals from scratch and didn’t mind taking a couple of days to make lasagna if it meant homemade sauce and cheese.

Zoe always enjoyed cooking and hosting parties, even at a young age. Moving to North Carolina at 18 for college and browsing through cookbooks for dinner ideas, Zoe happened upon The National Gourmet Institute, the only accredited culinary program for health and wellness.

Within three weeks, Zoe had applied, been accepted and moved to New York City. After 10 months of study, she graduated.

“It is crazy expensive to live in New York City so I worked three jobs to survive,” Zoe said.

A natural teacher, one of Zoe’s endeavors was teaching farmers market customers how to best use their fresh produce. Haven’s Kitchen entered the picture and Zoe began teaching classes there while also teaching some freelance classes. She has also been involved in some Master Class food videos.

Currently associated with Ghetto Gastro, Zoe credits the founders with bringing the Bronx to the world through food while supporting food insecurity programs. Under the name CRUXGG, Ghetto Gastro has partnered with Target to sell air fryers and various kitchen appliances with some food options in the works.

With a Ghetto Gastro cookbook due to hit the bookshelves on Oct. 18, Zoe can say she had a hand in her assemblage. Testing 65 recipes for accuracy was not a bad journey for Zoe and her wife, Nya Abudu.

“We ate really well at our house for a couple of weeks,” the newlywed Zoe said.

While living in California the past four years Zoe had an adventure of which we could only dream. As the private chef to a high-profile family, she spent a year with them at their homes in California and New York. While stressful, it will be a good story to tell when she is free to share it.

In the meantime, Zoe will continue on her food journey while looking at popular foods and seeking to make them healthier. She looks to share the history of the ingredients and uses her research lab to tinker with formulas to create better-for-you versions.

One example is pancake syrup. Made with real maple syrup from sustainable New York forests, apple cider and sorghum, it doesn’t need high fructose sugar. We can check the ingredients list but if we can’t pronounce some of them, maybe we need to rethink our choices. Knowing what we are eating is important to Zoe and she hopes it’s important to us, too.

Today’s recipe is one of several Zoe contributed to The Haven’s Kitchen Cooking School book and perfect for this time of year. This book is a combination of instructive for beginners and inspirational for expert cooks. It’s a great read for all us food lovers.

Have a wonderful week and happy eating.

Summer panzanella

1 small ciabatta loaf (about 6 cups cubed)

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

fine sea salt

1 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes (ideally a variety of heirlooms)

1 small red onion

1 English cucumber

Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

1/2 bunch of basil, leaves torn

1/2 bunch of fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut or tear the ciabatta into 1-inch pieces.

In a large bowl, toss the bread with 1/4 cup olive oil and a pinch of salt until coated. Let the oil soak into the bread for 3 minutes. Place the bread pieces on the baking sheet and bake until golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes.

While the bread is toasting, prepare the tomatoes by cutting them into fork-sized wedges and tossing them in a large bowl with a few pinches of salt. Salting the tomatoes creates a liquid which gets absorbed by the croutons, softening them a bit and giving them flavor.

Cut the red onion down the middle from pole to pole, peel, then cut into thin slices. Soak in ice water until you are ready to toss and plate the salad; this helps maintain the crunch and tempers the pungency.

Cut the cucumber in half lengthwise, cut off the ends and discard, then slice into 1/4-inch circles. Add the croutons to the bowl of tomatoes and toss gently to combine.

Drain the red onion and place in the bowl with the tomatoes. Add the cucumber and lemon juice and the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Toss gently with your hands. Add the basil and parsley and toss gently again.

When ready to serve, season the salad with grated cheese and lemon zest. Serves 6 to 8.

Cheryle Finley is a food columnist for The Joplin Globe. Address correspondence to Cheryle Finley, c/o The Joplin Globe, PO Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802.

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