A favorite dish can say a lot about a person — what they prioritize, where they come from and how they define nourishment. A quartet of intelligent, motivated, and thoughtful women are vying for the ultimate leadership roles in Oak Park and River Forest. To get to know each of the candidates for village president a bit better, I checked in to learn more about their mealtime favorites. After the conversations, I folded cabbage leaves, marinated tofu, shredded zucchini, and braised some beef.
You cannot go wrong with any of these recipes — each one is downright delicious and reflective of the thoughtful people hoping to guide Oak Park and River Forest into the future.
Oak Park: Crispy Tofu vs Cabbage Rolls
Cate Readling, candidate for Oak Park Village President, views the food we eat as an “access point to culture” and credits her husband Chip, the primary cook in the household, for her favorite dish. Chip’s marinated crispy tofu is a hit with every Readling and that’s no small feat—you’ll find six of them around the dinner table every night.
Readling, an intermittent vegetarian and mother of four boys between the ages of nine and 16, is always on the lookout for delicious dishes that keep her family safe. Her sixteen-year-old son, Thomas, suffers from a severe peanut allergy.
“There is a level of stress at every meal, but my husband is an Eagle Scout,” said Readling. “Thankfully, he is very vigilant about not killing our kid.”
Chip spent a portion of the pandemic perfecting his crispy tofu recipe and now it is a meal he knows everyone in his family will eat without objection. While some of the kids like their tofu extra spicy others prefer to enjoy it served over rice. The versatile meal allows all the Readlings to enjoy Asian flavors, a particular allergy risk, without worry.
Vicki Scaman, candidate for Oak Park Village President, is a first generation American and the first of her German family to graduate from college. Mandatory family meals were serious business when she was growing up in her parents’ “humble German household.”
Scaman recollects evening meals allowed her parents to catch up while she and her sibling ate quietly. Her mother Irene’s stuffed cabbage, filled with beef and “served over rice with rye bread and lots of butter,” earned Scamen’s top recipe honors.
“The dish does have a comfort appeal to both me and my father,” said Scaman. “He and I used to beg my mother to make her stuffed cabbage.”
Though Scaman, now an empty nester, admits she and fiancé, John Sullivan, often ate at Margaritas or Trattoria 225 before the pandemic hit, they reinstated family meals to blend their busy families after meeting. Her family is often on the run, but thanks to her mother’s example, Scaman knows the importance of using the family table to build connections with loved ones.
River Forest: Brociole vs Zucchini Bread
With hearty Italian flavor, Aunt Rosie’s (#1) Beef Brociole comes straight out of the Adduci family cookbook. Cathy Adduci, current River Forest president and candidate for reelection, recollects eating this classic dish while growing up in Roseland on Chicago’s South Side with her very traditional Italian family.
“It was cousins on cousins on cousins,” said Adduci. “We all lived on the same block and I look back fondly on all the meals we shared to celebrate communions, confirmations, weddings and birthdays.”
Her aunts were masters at making sauce (don’t call it gravy), crafting cheese, and curing meats. Adduci relishes the gift of coming home to a house made meal and recognizes it takes both patience and time to learn to eat well. Though distance has made it more difficult to gather as regularly as the family did in her youth, Adduci treasures holiday meals with her family to this day.
Patty Henek, a current village trustee and candidate for River Forest village president, remembers grating zucchini in her mother’s kitchen.
“I have vivid memories of helping my mother make zucchini bread,” said Henek. “Today friends and family cannot imagine what my kitchen would look like without a pan of zucchini bread cooling on the stove.”
Henek makes the sweet, yet veggie laden bread, regularly for family, friends, and neighbors. She admits she and her sisters “tried to make it healthier” when their children were young, but sugar and oil proved to be key ingredients in every loaf. A playmate of her son was horrified to learn there were vegetables in his beloved bread.
“Once my son’s friend saw me grating zucchini for the bread he loved and he said he didn’t want that yucky stuff in it,” laughed Henek.
Henek, who has “leadership in her blood,” has used her zucchini bread making prowess to raise funds for the Food and Gift Basket program she helms in the community. The flavorful quick bread is popular at bake sales, but Henek considers the recipe to be synonymous with her family.
From Cate Readling: Chip’s Crispy Tofu
2 12-ounce packages firm or extra firm tofu
Soy sauce (low salt)
Ground black pepper
Olive or Avocado oil
- Drain tofu and cut in half so you have two large rectangles.
- Take a clean dishtowel, fold in half, and set tofu on towel.
- Take another clean dishtowel and lay it on top.
- Place a baking sheet on top of the dishtowel and weigh it down with a few large cans from the pantry or something equally heavy.
- After an hour or so, take the tofu and cut it into approximately 1-inch squares. Place in gallon sized plastic storage bag.
- Add soy sauce, garlic powder, onion powder and black pepper to bag. You can also add whatever you think would add to the flavor (chili paste, rice vinegar, paprika, etc.)
- Make sure tofu has a nice coating and place in fridge overnight.
- Place tofu in large bowl, leaving behind the marinade
- Lightly cover with corn starch and gently stir to coat. It’s OK that it’s lumpy and sticky!
- Add oil to non-stick frying pan and preheat
- Add mixture to preheated frying pan
- Fry in batches until lightly brown and crispy
You can pour unused marinade on top of the tofu as it cooks. Add a bit of sesame oil, arrange on a plate and enjoy the accolades.
*Editor’s note: I added Lee Kum Kee chili garlic sauce to the marinade and turned the bag a few times to make sure it was evenly marinating. I used about ¼ Cup of avocado oil in a 12-inch skillet and turned the tofu once during frying. Avocado oil is a great choice for this recipe because it has a 500-degree smoke point. I served the tofu with brown rice, edamame, broccoli, and extra chili garlic sauce. Yum!
From Vicki Scaman: Irene’s Stuffed Cabbage
1 large head of green cabbage
16-ounces of your favorite marinara sauce
2 pounds ground beef
1 envelope onion mushroom soup mix
2 cups uncooked oatmeal
To prepare cabbage:
Remove core from head of cabbage
Scald cabbage in a large pot of boiling water
Remove the outer leaves a few at a time as they wilt
Set aside until cool enough to handle
When cool, trim the thick vein so they will roll easily
Prepare meat filling:
Combine ground chuck, onion mushroom soup, eggs, and oatmeal until well blended.
In large roaster or Dutch oven pour enough marinara sauce to cover bottom. Place meat filling in center of cabbage leaves, fold sides in and roll. Place rolls close together, seam side down in roaster or Dutch oven. As you make a layer, pour on enough marinara sauce to cover. Continue until you run out of filling or cabbage leaves. Cover the pot. Bake at 350 degrees for 90 minutes.
*Editor’s note: To scald the cabbage bring a large skillet filled with water to a boil. Add three leaves at a time and allow them to soften for about 3 minutes to make them more pliable. I used about ½ C filling per leaf and ran out of filling after filling about 18 leaves. I served them with brown rice and buttered rye bread as directed. It was as cozy as promised!
From Cathy Adduci: Aunt Rosie’s (#1) Brociole
1 ½ pounds thin sliced round steak or flank steak
3 slices of bacon
1-2 cloves garlic
1 Tablespoon fresh parsley
1 bay leaf
A pot of your favorite spaghetti sauce
Cut about 4-5 pieces of steak (3×4 inches) and tenderize each piece. Chop up the last four ingredients together very fine and equally distribute in the center of each piece. Roll up each piece and secure with one or two toothpicks. Prepare your favorite spaghetti sauce; after the sauce comes to a boil add the rolled-up steaks and simmer until tender, about 1 ½ to 2 hours.
*Editor’s note: I made a homemade marinara sauce using 3 28-ounce cans of crushed tomatoes to cook the brociole in. I opted not to mince the bay leaf and just tossed in the sauce instead. I browned the streak rolls before adding them to the sauce and tossed in a rind of Parmigiano-Reggiano because I had it on hand and felt Aunt Rosie would approve. This dish tastes like a hug feels.
From Patty Henek: Family Favorite Zucchini Bread
1 C. Oil
2 C. Sugar
2 Tsp. Vanilla
Mix these four ingredients
2 C. Shredded Zucchini – Mix
BLEND the following and ADD to mixture
1 Tsp. Salt
1 Tsp. Baking Soda
¼ Tsp. Baking Powder
2 ½ Tbsp. Cinnamon
3 Cups all-purpose flour
Chopped Walnuts (optional) – mix in or sprinkle on top
Pour batter into two greased loaf pans. Bake at 325 for about 45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
*Editor’s note: I mixed in ½ Cup walnuts to my batter. Per Patty’s suggestion, I divided the batter into six miniature loaf pans to make it easier to share the delicious bread with friends—they took about 50 minutes to bake at 325, but I started checking them at about 40 minutes.