Healthy eat­ing did not come nat­u­ral­ly to me. Maybe that’s because my mother’s idea of healthy eat­ing con­sist­ed of sit­ting us around the TV like cow­boys by the fire, drink­ing 3‑liter bot­tles of diet soda and eat­ing crispy kosher chick­en skin. The first time I ate sal­ad that wasn’t ice­berg let­tuce, I was aston­ished. Arugu­la? What! Sal­ad has fla­vor?! Who knew?!

It’s not like I’m a fakak­ta nutri­tion­ist or a healthy-eat­ing guru. I didn’t move out of the house and start juic­ing water­cress. My spin on healthy eat­ing had noth­ing to do with choice.

Twen­ty years ago, I went to a natur­o­path­ic doc­tor to find out why I bloat­ed like I was 9 months preg­nant every time I ate a meal. I’ll be hon­est; I just assumed it hap­pened because I’m Jew­ish. The doc­tor told me I was aller­gic to wheat, and since no one was talk­ing about gluten two decades ago, I was in disbelief.

Aller­gic to wheat?! No piz­za, no pas­ta, no bread, no cake?! Couldn’t I be aller­gic to sex instead?!”

We didn’t have the 5,000 gluten-free sub­sti­tutes we have now. I was forced to get cre­ative. I sub­sti­tut­ed roast­ed cau­li­flower for mac­a­roni. I swapped let­tuce leaves for sand­wich bread. Have you ever tried a burg­er in a col­lard greens wrap? Tasty! After I got used to it, I did feel and look a whole hella­va lot bet­ter. Down­right sexy, if you ask me.

Healthy eat­ing means a lot of things to a lot of peo­ple. Cook­ing and eat­ing healthy food required extra effort when our lives were rel­a­tive­ly nor­mal. Rel­a­tive­ly” being the oper­a­tive word for me; I’m a punk rock cater­er, after all. In this pan­dem­ic, with most of us on lock­down, long lines at the gro­cery and many of the items we love to eat sold out, it’s a LOT harder.

You prob­a­bly want to go gro­cery shop­ping as infre­quent­ly as pos­si­ble. In my Man­hat­tan neigh­bor­hood, gro­cery shop­ping has been a fair­ly hor­ri­ble expe­ri­ence. After wait­ing in line for­ev­er, I’m allowed in; then I try to get down an aisle with­out get­ting with­in six feet of anoth­er shop­per. OY VEY, not easy. I’ve tak­en to growl­ing at peo­ple who get too close to me.

I don’t mind being the crazy lady in Aisle Four.

To make your gro­cery trips count, let’s talk about some great things to buy when gro­cery shop­ping. With the pan­dem­ic, I think before I cook.

1. Chick­en on the bone. IF THEY HAVE CHICK­EN! In my Lati­no com­mu­ni­ty, the gro­cery store sold out of chick­en. I thought there was gonna be a riot. WE HAVE TO GO THROUGH ALL OF THIS, AND NO ARROZ CON POLLO?!But my neigh­bors shrugged and fig­ured pork was close enough. Pork? For me? Nyet. My moth­er, Har­ri­et, would turn over in her grave. Chick­en on the bone makes a glo­ri­ous chick­en soup, which can be the base for a fantab­u­lous chick­en stew. Make a bunch and stock up; soups freeze well.

2. Get to the root of it. Parsnips, pota­toes, and sweet pota­toes last for­ev­er and are a fab­u­lous way to turn a snack into a meal. You can boil or roast, toss into a soup or a cur­ry, work into a sal­ad, use as a side dish or just as a snack. In the 80s when I briefly attempt­ed to be a body­builder, the mus­cle gang roast­ed a pile of sweet pota­toes one day a week, then snacked on them dur­ing work­out breaks as a yum­my healthy ener­giz­er. Load up on car­rots, cel­ery, and onions. These are the secret to a thou­sand dish­es of won­der. Yeah, yeah, I know; cel­ery is not a root. But it makes great soup.

2. Load up on eggs. When I was prepar­ing for my Zoom Passover Seder, I want­ed to hard boil a few eggs. I thought, Why don’t I just hard boil twen­ty of them instead and have a nice source of pro­tein for the next two weeks?” If you don’t peel the eggs, they last for­ev­er. I love adding sliced hard-boiled eggs to a sal­ad and turn­ing it into a meal. If I have tuna and pota­toes, I’ll make a glo­ri­ous nicoise sal­ad. I love to eat a hard-boiled egg with salt for break­fast, but it’s a great pro­tein boost at any time of the day. Every­one loves dev­iled eggs, but for some­thing new the kids might love, try toast­ed cheese eggs. Peel the hard-boiled egg. Cut in half. Lay on a bak­ing sheet and top with grat­ed ched­dar, Mon­terey Jack, (or what­ev­er cheese you have) and stick in the oven at 375 degrees until the cheese melts and it looks toasty. I like to sprin­kle mine with a lit­tle papri­ka, but you don’t have to.

3. Unprepped sal­ad. I have made the mis­take of load­ing up on prepped and washed sal­ad, but by the time I got to eat­ing it, it was sal­ad swamp. Sal­ads you prep your­self last a lot longer. I know, I know; what a pain in the tuchas! HEY! DO YOU HAVE SOME­WHERE ELSE TO BE?! I’m par­tial to kale, arugu­la, and romaine. Added bonus: If your kale, arugu­la, or romaine starts to get funky, you can pan-fry it in a lit­tle olive oil and gar­lic. Deli­cious! I made a warm romaine sal­ad the oth­er day. I cut my romaine into spears and briefly sautéed it in olive oil and then hit it with a driz­zle of apple cider vine­gar, kosher salt and fresh ground pep­per. So nice! If you throw a lit­tle grat­ed parme­san on that, total Yumtown.

4. Frozen pro­duce gets a bad rap, and it’s unde­served. Just watch out for those con­coc­tions that are full of salt and sug­ar. Frozen spinach should have one ingre­di­ent: SPINACH! Frozen pro­duce is picked at its peak and then frozen. It’s always fresh. Nev­er funky like some of the stuff I’ve been see­ing in the pro­duce aisle late­ly. My favorite frozen veg­etable items are peas and chopped spinach. If you are pick­ing peas right out of your gar­den, you may get that gor­geous sweet pea taste, but a week lat­er? NOT! Frozen peas keep their just-picked sweet­ness. You’d have to prep a sink full of spinach to get what’s in one tiny 10 oz. box of frozen spinach. All that nutri­tion smushed into that one lit­tle box? No won­der Pop­eye got so charged up from it.

5. Dry legumes are a great source of veg­an pro­tein and a fan­tas­tic thing to load up on. I’m talk­ing about beans and chick­peas. Soak them in water overnight. Chick­peas like a pinch of bak­ing soda in their soak­ing water. It soft­ens their skin, and we all need that. When you’re ready to cook, cov­er the legumes of choice with water and bring to a boil, then low­er to a sim­mer and cook till soft.

6. Can-do canned toma­toes. Gen­er­al­ly speak­ing, I’m not fond of canned items, but canned toma­toes are a big excep­tion for me. Unless you’re har­vest­ing toma­toes at their peak, you will not find tasti­er toma­toes for cook­ing than what’s in the can. I always stay stocked on cans of whole tomatoes.

I know, get to the recipes already. Dur­ing a recent Coro­na cook­ing extrav­a­gan­za day in my com­mer­cial kitchen, I had onions, car­rots, cel­ery, gar­lic, gin­ger, chick­en on the bone, frozen spinach, canned toma­toes, chick­peas and potatoes.

Rather than get all fan­cy and pro­por­tion­ate for you civ­i­lized folks, I’m just gonna give you the recipes as I cooked them. This is a big por­tion for a home cook, but hon­est­ly why not cook a ton of it and freeze? You’ll thank me lat­er. Want to scale down, be my guest. Who am I to judge?

Big Ass Batch of Chick­en Soup

I cov­ered 10 pounds of cut up chick­en on the bone with 5 inch­es of water, brought it to a boil then sim­mered for­ev­er. (“For­ev­er” is Jew­ish for OY VEY, I’m suf­fer­ing here.” At least an hour.)

Then I threw in my famous 10/10/10; 10 peeled and chopped onions, 10 chopped car­rots and 10 sliced cel­ery stalks. I added a heap­ing plop of minced gar­lic and a small­er plop of minced gin­ger, and sea­soned well with cel­ery salt, kosher salt, papri­ka, and Old Bay.

When the chick­en was well cooked and falling apart, I took it out of the broth with tongs and put it aside to shred when cool. My moth­er would add guilt as her pri­ma­ry sea­son­ing, but I’ll spare you. Sim­mer for­ev­er again.

I washed, cut into cubes and boiled 8 pota­toes. I left the skin on. That’s where most of the nutri­tion is any­way. Right? Plus it gives me a great excuse for being lazy. Peel pota­toes?! Not for this gal! Health first.

When I was ready to rum­ble, I filled a dozen quart con­tain­ers 1/3 full of shred­ded chick­en, a hand­ful of boiled pota­toes and a hand­ful of car­rots, onions, and cel­ery (that I spooned out of the broth with a slot­ted spoon). I tast­ed the broth, adjust­ed sea­son­ing with fresh ground pep­per and salt, and then poured into the containers.

If you want chick­en soup and not chick­en stew, skip the pota­toes. If you have fresh pars­ley, that is also super nice to throw into this soup. So is dill, but I hate dill any­where that’s not a pick­le, so don’t invite me over. I’d drink all your wine anyway.

Big Ass Batch of Veg­an Curry

I cov­ered the six bags of chick­peas I’d soaked overnight in water. I brought them to a boil, then sim­mered till soft. This took about an hour. I have made this dish when I for­got to soak the chick­peas overnight. Still works, but lordy, that real­ly does take for­ev­er. Took me almost three hours to get those chick­adees soft. I tried every­thing. I even sang them Bar­ry White. Three hours! Try to remem­ber to soak your chick­peas overnight, and remem­ber the bak­ing soda.

I sautéed my 10/10/10: 10 peeled and sliced onions, 10 chopped car­rots and 10 chopped cel­ery stalks. When the veg­gies were cooked, I added a heap­ing hand­ful of garam masala, cur­ry pow­der, salt and pep­per, cooked that for a spell, then tossed in a big can (28oz) of toma­toes. I threw in a few heap­ing plops of minced gar­lic and minced gin­ger, then I cooked for a spell (a spell is about a half-hour). Mean­while back at the ranch, I thawed out six pack­ages of frozen spinach by run­ning hot water over them in a colan­der. When my toma­to cur­ry base was deli­cious, I tossed in the spinach, then added in the drained chick­peas and cooked till it was all soft, love­ly, and aro­mat­ic. A half-hour lat­er, I tast­ed one more time, added a few pinch­es of salt and pep­per, and it was showtime.

If you have it, toss­ing in a heap­ing hand­ful of fresh chopped cilantro is glo­ri­ous. I also love to throw into this same cur­ry recipe cut up cau­li­flower. Sweet pota­to is fab­u­lous, too. If you like your cur­ry spicy, add pow­dered chili pep­per or cayenne.

I wound up with 12 quarts of veg­an cur­ry. Chana Saag to be exact. Not a bad cook­ing day at the Rag­ing Skillet.

All the items froze fabulously.

That was two weeks ago. My pals and neigh­bors are still eating.

One last lit­tle tip, because I real­ly have kvetched too long, the biggest part of healthy cook­ing is how much love you put into it. Love for your­self. Love for who­ev­er you’re cook­ing for. Love for the food itself.

Oh, car­rot! How I hon­or thee! I hon­or the farmer who raised thee and the cashier at the gro­cery store who charged me dou­ble by acci­dent. I hon­or thee, oh car­rot. Now get the hell into my soup!

Rossi has been pub­lished in out­lets includ­ing The Dai­ly News, The New York Post, Time Out New York, and Mcsweeney’s, to name a few. She has been the food writer of the Eat Me” col­umn for Bust mag­a­zine since 1998, hosts her own hit radio show on WOMR and WFMR in Cape Cod called Bite This, now in its nine­teenth sea­son, has been fea­tured on The Food Net­work and NPR and has been a pop­u­lar blog­ger for The Huff­in­g­ton Post. Her first mem­oir, The Rag­ing Skil­let: The True Life Sto­ry of Chef Rossi was pub­lished by The Fem­i­nist Press to rave reviews. In addi­tion to mem­oir, Rossi has writ­ten two full-length plays and sev­er­al short plays. Rossi resides in Manhattan.

Chef Rossi is avail­able to be booked for speak­ing engage­ments through Read On. Click here for more information.