TOSI Challenge: Flat Iron Steak Sandwich & Fries

Individual flat iron steaks from Dierks Farms and fresh sourdough bread baked by Scratch Brewing Company, both of Ava, were among groceries I got this past Saturday at the Carbondale Community Farmer’s Market. This pair of ingredients seemed like a great starting point for a TOSI (Taste Of Southern Illinois) Challenge creation.

For the steaks, I used a quick marinade of Ponzu, grapeseed oil, salt, pepper and a few drops of red wine vinegar. Then I applied some Cactus Pete’s Ultimate Steak House Rub, made in Buckner, that I found at Arnold’s Market in Carbondale.

I grilled thick slices of the sourdough bread in a bit of butter on my George Foreman grill. I also grilled some onions and sweet mini pepper strips with a few shiitake mushrooms from Fly Away Family Farms of Makanda. Each side of bread was smeared with basil pesto. After grilling the steaks and allowing them to rest for the juices to redistribute, they were sliced against the grain. I added a slice of Swiss cheese for flavor.

The oven fries were pretty simple but tasty. I cut scrubbed Russett potatoes into thick fries and coated them with grapeseed oil, salt, pepper, and paprika before baking in a single layer at 450 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 minutes, turning once. For the fry dipping sauce, I mixed a bit of mayonnaise with ketchup and added some chopped fresh herbs. I used basil and parsley from my kitchen window with some dill from All Seasons Farm of Cobden. The ivrn fries were the perfect compliment to the flat iron steak sandwich.


Corn, Ranch Dressing, and Giardiniera

Contestant Robyn opened her cooler on this Sunday night’s episode of “Worst Cooks in America” and found the following three ingredients: corn, ranch dressing, and giardiniera. These foods had been chosen to represent Illinois. (Technically, the dart she threw at the map to choose her state landed in Southern Illinois –more specifically, Southwestern Illinois… ) I spent commercial breaks researching how ranch dressing and giardiniera were indicative of Illinois. Since the official state vegetable is sweet corn, the official state snack is popcorn, and as of this New Year’s Day, the official state grain is corn, I get that one.

An internet search revealed that giardiniera, a pickled vegetable condiment, is reportedly very popular in the Chicago area served with foods such as Italian beef and pizza. Guess what. Southern Illinois has some pretty great Italian food too (Can you say, “Herrinfesta Italiana?”) We also have locally made giardiniera. Louie’s Seasonings in Johnston City makes both hot and mild giardiniera as well as muffaletta and olive salads.

As for the ranch dressing….well, that one was more of a stretch for me. The best I could determine is that it was perhaps a veiled nod to Miracle Whip. Although it is not mayonnaise, it has similar color and appearance. Ranch dressing often has mayonnaise in it. As for the Miracle Whip connection to Illinois, it has been reported to have been developed in Salem. Originally, it was said to be Max Crosset’s X-tra Fine Salad dressing as used in Max Crosset’s Cafe. He reportedly sold its recipe to Kraft Foods for $300 in 1931. As with other things (like internet and sticky notes…) there are some conflicting reports regarding the invention of the famous salad dressing.

Whether or not she was familiar with Illinois or the three ingredients, Contestant Robyn did win the burger creation challenge for the Red Team. In fact a couple of the ingredients she chose to incorporate into her burger creation had elements that are representative of Southern Illinois: pepperjack cheese and barbecue sauce. Peppers seem to grow well here. Darn Hot Peppers has a wide variety of products featuring them. Good BBQ is also readily available in Southern Illinois. 17th Street Bar & Grill, Smoked to the Bone, Pat’s BBQ, The Wylde Hog, and Southern Que are just some of the options. Chef Anne seemed impressed with the Illinois burger, and it did look delicious.

The TOSI Challenge Meets the Carbondale Community Farmer’s Market

Last Saturday, I was finally able to spend a little time at the Carbondale Community Farmer’s Market, also affectionately referred to as the winter farmer’s market and indoor market. As many of you know, I’ve been dealing with cancer treatments and restrictions for the past few months that limit my ability to get out and do these kinds of things. Being back at a farmer’s market, even if only for a little while, was a real treat for me.

With so many great ingredients and foods from which to choose, it was the perfect place to resume the TOSI (Taste Of Southern Illinois) Challenge. Instead of eating hazardous household products or engaging in harmful behaviors, this is a more tasteful challenge (pun intended.) Quite simply, The TOSI Challenge is to create foods or meals from ingredients made or grown in Southern Illinois. Use #TOSIChallenge when sharing your creations on social media and when possible, tag or at least identify the Southern Illinois ingredients.

One of my first purchases was a ready-to-bake pizza from Tonight, Pizza Italiana.

These are made in Carbondale and can even be ordered online. I opted for the Margherita pizza. My son has requested to try the Americana version next. Its toppings include hot dog and French fries.

One of my next stops was at Mustard Seed Sowers Farm for some iced holy basil tea. They had other choices, but that was my favorite. Mustard Seed Sowers Farm also had boxes of tea available for sale.

One of the benefits of shopping at the farmers market, besides supporting your community, is that you can speak directly with someone who knows the product. For example, at Honey & Shrooms, you learn the difference between the light and dark honey.

This week, I combined some of the honey I purchased from Honey & Shrooms with shiitake mushrooms from Flyaway Family Farms in a chicken stir fry over rice. I also used some red scallions and garlic that I bought from the nice lady in between Mustard Seed Sowers and Dierks Family Farms.

Fresh dill from All Seasons Farm went into a salmon en papillote weeknight meal over thinly sliced potatoes. I also used some of the red scallions, lemon zest, olive oil, and butter.

Fortunately, my taste buds were working better last Saturday (chemo really wreaks havoc on them,) and I worked up an appetite. Southern Que was the perfect solution. I opted for the half slab of ribs with baked beans and slaw. It was wonderful.

I didn’t leave my fur babies out of the TOSI Challenge. Mario’s Mama was there with treats for dogs and even a few for cats. So, Pokey got a canine-safe iced cookie, and the kitties got tuna melt.

There were many things to see, and even a fitness class. (I was already tired from walking more than usual for now, so I did not participate…) I didn’t manage to get pictures of every vendor, but there is a nice variety.

This indoor, winter farmers market runs from 9:00 am to noon on Saturdays through March at the Carbondale High school.


Carbondale Community Farmer’s Market,

Tonight, Pizza Italiana,

Mustard Seed Sowers Farm,

All Seasons Farm,

Flyaway Family Farm,

Mario’s Mama,

Scratch Farm & Brewery,

Southern Que,

Honey & Shrooms,

Stronger Together

On this Martin Luther King Day, I am reminded how one of the things I love so much about Southern Illinois is its diversity. We don’t all have to look alike, sound alike, or even prefer the same foods to be a community. We may share a common region, but not all being carbon copies of each other is a good thing. I am by no means a carpenter, but I have seen things made that have different shaped interlocking parts. Those different parts coming together make the object stronger than just straight boards and nails.

Yes, English is our primary language. However, many folks do know another language as part of their family heritage or tradition, and I love that. As someone who spent a portion of grad school as the only one in my apartment who was not from Costa Rica, it is comforting for me to hear families speaking in Spanish. (Of course, that does depend on the tone of voice and words used…)

I also love that we have been blessed with people from many backgrounds sharing their art and cuisine. For example, in Carbondale, you can have Mediterranean, Italian, Indian, and array of other food choices. Personally, I am fascinated by the choice of ingredients at Monah’s International Grocery Store and Tienda Paisano. As someone who loves to cook, I am like a kid in a toy store looking at all of the possibilities at both stores.

We are fortunate to be a region where our people are as beautifully diverse as our landscape. There are towns with a long history of heritage from other countries that share their traditions through community celebrations like Herrinfesta Italiana in Herrin and Fruehlingsfest in Maeystown. There are educational opportunities at places like the African American Museum of Southern Illinois in Carbondale and the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site.

Southern Illinois is like a beautiful, colorful quilt made of many different types of fabric woven together. Each block is beautiful on its own, but together we become even stronger as we support each other.

Eat & More to Help

     I see multiple posts from friends looking for information on how to purchase community business discount cards from their local school group fundraiser in towns all over Southern Illinois. This is for a good reason–they are a win-win-win situation. Buyer, school group, and community businesses all benefit. 
There is a section called “Eat & More to Help” under the “Info and Misc” icon on the ASOSI app. This is where local (verifiable) fundraisers and benefits, when known, are listed. For example, if you look under the Carbondale section of “Eat & More to Help,” you will find a link to the Empty Bowl event for Good Samaritan House.  (If you are reading this after the event date, the link may no longer be listed.)

     Wouldn’t it be great if we got in the habit of checking to see where we could help folks out in our communities? Actually, even if you are passing through on vacation, getting a great meal or buying a souvenir that helps someone out is not a bad thing. In fact some of the food at benefits is probably prepared by some of the best home cooks in the area. In any given month, there may be fish fries, mostaccoli dinners, chicken and dumplings, and more. If you are vacationing in Southern Illinois and have been eating all of your meals in restaurants, you might want to check to see if there are any home cooked meal fundraisers in your path for a change of pace. You might also meet some wonderful locals and get more ideas on what you would like to see while you are here. 

     Think of fundraisers as more opportunities to purchase unique gifts. There may be one of a kind items available to purchase that someone on your list would love. Meanwhile, your purchase goes toward a good cause. 

     The ASOSI app is available for free download on Google Play and the Apple App Store. 

Dark Chocolate Carrot Cupcakes 

Since this is National Chocolate Cupcake Day, I am sharing my own recipe for dark chocolate carrot cupcakes. The spices tend to add some warmth and a unique flavor and depth to them. Enjoy!

Cupcake Ingredients:

Dry Ingredients:

One bag shredded carrots, finely grated in the food processor (approx. 2 cups)

2 Cups flour

1/3 Cup dark chocolate cocoa powder

1 Teaspoon baking soda

1 Teaspoon baking powder

A pinch of garam masala (indian spice mixture)

A pinch of salt

Wet Ingredients:

2 Cups of sugar

4 eggs

1 cup vegetable oil


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pan with paper or foil liners. Mix dry ingredients together and add the wet ingredients.  Fill cupcake liners 1/2 to 1/3 full and bake approximately 17 minutes.  Baking time may vary with oven and altitude.  Allow to cool before frosting.

Frosting Ingredients:

1/4 Cup heavy whipping cream

5 Tablespoons sugar

1 Medium container of whipped cream cheese

Approximately 3 cups of powdered sugar

3 Tablespoons dark chocolate cocoa powder

A sprinkle of chipotle powder

A sprinkle of powdered cayenne pepper

Directions:  Beat cream and sugar until peaks form.  Add remaining ingredients one at a time, beat each one into the frosting.  Add more powdered sugar if necessary for desired sweetness or texture.  Fill parchment triangle bag with frosting and pipe in spirals beginning at center of cupcake. 

Optional Garnish:

Use a vegetable peeler to create curls from chocolate candy bark/almond bark and top each frosted cupcake with chocolate curls

A Memorial Day Weekend “Must See”

For the past couple years, I have been in awe of the beautiful flag display at Cannon Park in Carterville. 

The Carterville Lioness Club will be presenting their Military Salute again from May 27-May 29, 2017 at Cannon Park in Carterville.

Video from the 2016 Military Salute Display

This display honors veterans and active duty military from all over the Tri-C area. Each flag has been purchased by someone to bear a soldier’s name. There are even names representing those that fought in wars and battles decades before us.  Some have been decorated with pictures of the soldier in uniform or with flowers.  It would be a great way to make those history books seems a bit more real for kids and adults. (Homeschool families, seriously consider planning a lesson around a visit to the display.)