Greek Fish dish made by Judith Dunbar-Hines in Chicago on Sept. 18, 2012. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times
Updated: November 4, 2012 6:03AM
Some foodie friends and I were chatting about supper. You remember supper, that no-frills meal at the end of an overscheduled day?
Where has it gone?
Even people who work with food all day long — cooking, testing recipes, writing about it — often find ourselves harried and hungry.
Sometimes we don’t want to cook. We just want something to eat — right now.
My friends and I were quick to agree on what we don’t want on nights like this: fancy places, hovering waiters, special instructions about how to eat each item, parades of tiny courses.
Just give us something delicious, nutritious, quick and inexpensive.
That’s not asking too much, is it?
Our list of go-to places was not very long: a Korean storefront, drive-up take-out, the prepared food counters at the supermarket all came up for discussion.
But we all bemoaned the loss of the neighborhood diner, where they know your name, how you like your meal, what you drink.
Sure, they care about you, but they don’t feel the need to interrupt your dinner for any lengthy conversation.
For my part, I often opt for a quick stop in Greektown. The waiters are efficient and caring, but sometimes a little brusque.
I interpret that as a positive; they leave me alone when I am tired and don’t want to talk.
The food is fresh made and tasty, yet inexpensive. I go in famished and leave a short time later with a satisfaction I don’t always find in fancier spots.
Add free parking to take away the hassle of circling the block or fiddling with the pay box and I’m happy.
Until the diner makes a comeback in every neighborhood — and there are hopeful signs that this is beginning to happen — here’s a recipe you might like to have handy.
It requires few ingredients, a short prep time and minimal clean-up. Add a big green salad and slice a tomato and you can be fed well with no muss, no fuss.
The secret is to have some ready-made spice mixes in your cabinet.
On a recent visit to the Spice House in Old Town, I discovered two new mixtures that have become my go-to spices of the moment.
Choosing the salt-free Sunny Greek Islands mix — a combo that includes oregano, marjoram, lemon, garlic and mint — is almost as good as a stop in Greektown.
Mix the spices with olive oil, use some as a coating on a piece of fish or chicken, and use the rest as the base of a simple salad dressing.
On another frazzled night, you might want to relax before supper.
That’s the time to try Spice House’s new Gateway to the North Maple Garlic Seasoning, using the same basic recipe. It has the perfect flavor profile for a pork chop or salmon filet, as well as a baked chicken. Rub a whole chicken with the oil/spice mixture, brush some on sliced acorn squash and pop both into the oven, then kick back and have a glass of wine.
This supper menu on a cool fall evening can be as comforting as a stop at the diner.
You will have to supply the shout of “Oopah!” yourself, but doesn’t that always make you smile?
Judith Dunbar Hines is a cooking teacher, tour guide, writer and culinary consultant in Chicago. Contact her at email@example.com.