| April 2012
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By Olivia Boler
Just Cook Foods founders Scott Lucas and Cathy Storfer test their spice “rubs” in their home kitchen on Diamond Street, often with daughter Anna observing. Photo by Pamela Gerard
Admit it: After a long day at work or hauling your kids around from classes to playgrounds to more classes, cooking dinner is a mountain you just don’t feel like climbing. Popping in a frozen dinner or ordering takeout seems like the way to go. Or maybe you want to invite friends over for dinner, but you’re intimidated by the amount of work it will take to make the meal not only tasty, but pleasing to the eye.
Well, Scott Lucas and Cathy Storfer want you to know that making a delicious home-cooked meal, whether on a weeknight after a busy day or for a weekend dinner party, is easier than you think.
Last year, the Diamond Street couple launched Just Cook Foods, a specialty foods company with foodies in mind.
In 2008, Lucas, then 50, realized he was burned out after working as a software salesperson in the tech industry for 20 years. He and Storfer had just married, and while on their extended honeymoon traveling around the world, discussed what the next step in his career should be. They decided to invest in their mutual passion for food, cooking, and entertaining. They also talked their friend Daniel Capra into joining them on their new venture. Capra is executive chef at Paula LeDuc Fine Catering, where Storfer, now 41, had worked as an event planner.
The trio decided to first concentrate on “rubs,” combinations of spices that could be rubbed or sprinkled on meats, fish, poultry, or vegetables. In the spring of 2011, the company rolled out four rubs, sold individually in 3.2-ounce canisters for about $8. The little black cans are now available at 80 different stores, including the Noe Valley Whole Foods, Drewes Bros. Meats, and Canyon Market in Glen Park.
The rubs have names like Any Day Chicken, described as a blend of orange, cardamom, lavender, and sage; and Herbed Coffee Rub (yes, coffee!), which is meant for heavier foods like red meats and pork and combines coffee with oregano, cumin, and chipotle spices. “It’s a favorite that sells well,” Lucas says.
Just Cook Foods unveiled its first four products last spring. The spice rubs are available at Whole Foods Market and Drewes Bros. in Noe Valley, and at many other city locations.
The Ancho Chicken Blend is a mix of ancho chili, cumin, and basil. It can be used on chicken, of course, but also goes on vegetables, seafood, eggs, and nuts. The last in Just Cook Foods’ premiere collection is a spice called No. 19 Salmon—“because it took 19 tries before we came up with a blend that worked,” Storfer says.
Each rub takes about six months to develop, she says. First, Capra, who lives with his family in the East Bay, comes up with a spice idea and creates several mixes for sampling. Then, Storfer and Lucas try cooking with the rubs to see how they blend with a variety of foods and ingredients.
Next, the couple turn to their “cheap test market,” Storfer says, giving samples and recipes to friends to try, and hosting dinner parties where their neighbors are eager and willing guinea pigs. They’ve even asked their babysitter, who takes care of their 10-month-old daughter, Anna, and doesn’t cook, to try a recipe, and she told them it was easy to prepare and tasted great.
“Making sure the blends are appetizing as well as versatile is key,” Storfer says. For example, some of the 19 salmon rubs they tried at home burned on the grill, so they had Capra go back to the kitchen.
Capra, Lucas, and Storfer say ideas on how to use the rubs, as well as recipes for dishes that complement the spices, can be found at the company’s website, www.justcookfoods.com.
Currently, the team is testing two new rubs, which will be introduced in June: Gimme Steak and Close to Curry Blend. In the future, they’d like to expand the product line and offer marinades, oils, and salts.
“None of the rubs are standard blends you usually find in stores, like Close to Curry is not a true curry,” Lucas says. “The idea is to create something that’s different. Something with familiar flavors but we put a modern twist on it. We hope to make meals taste a little more complex, but at the same time they’re easy to make at home.”
“That’s why our motto is, ‘We make it easy. You make it great,’” Storfer adds.
Here are two recipes using two of the spice combinations created by Cathy Storfer, Scott Lucas, and Daniel Capra.
Roasted Any Day Chicken
With Shaved Carrot, Cabbage, Orange Peel, Citrusy Mayonnaise, and Fresh Cilantro
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Dash of salt.
Mix above ingredients together and set aside.
5 chicken thighs (bone in and skin on)
3 tablespoons canola oil
3 tablespoons Just Cook Foods Any Day Chicken Blend (plus a little more for finishing)
2 carrots, peeled and julienned
1/4 head green cabbage, finely shaved
1 orange, zested and juiced
1/4 bunch cilantro, leaves picked
1/4 cup citrusy mayonnaise
Gently rub chicken with canola oil and season with Just Cook Any Day Chicken Blend. (If you plan ahead, let this sit overnight.)
In a preheated 425-degree oven, roast chicken thighs for 20 minutes, rotate pan, and roast for an additional 15 minutes (or until the chicken is fully cooked). Remove from oven and allow to cool. Once cool, remove chicken skin and return it to the oven for about 15 minutes to crisp.
Carefully pull the chicken meat away from the bones (shred) and combine with carrot and cabbage in a medium-sized bowl. Chop the crisped chicken skin and add to the mix.
Add the orange zest and juice, as well as the picked cilantro leaves. Season with a bit more Just Cook Any Day Blend.
Serve with a spoonful of citrusy mayonnaise on small, fresh tortillas or soft rolls.
Ancho Spiced Pecans
1 pound pecans
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon Just Cook Ancho Chicken Blendª
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons Worcestershire
Make sure your pecans are not cold or the butter will seize. Melt butter in a small pot. Add Worcestershire sauce to heat. Toss with nuts, salt, Just Cook Ancho Chicken Blendª and sugar. Bake at 325 degrees for about 20 minutes. Cool. Cover tightly!
See more recipes at www.justcookfoods.com
Cathy Storfer (left) and husband Scott Lucas (behind the camera) don’t have to beg too hard to get friends to be part of their “test market.” Sampling the No. 19 Salmon with shrimp and soup at a March dinner party were Laura and Michael Levinson and Gary and Justine Rudman. Photo by Scott Lucas