J.J. Jones opens up his heart and home when cooking for friends and family. On a personal and professional level, Jones is also concerned about people’s access to healthy foods through his work with the nonprofit Center for Food Integrity and community gardens.
Jones also cooks for causes by donating and hosting parties for charities in the renovated 1925 historic Northeast Kansas City home he shares with his partner, Kevin Briggs.
“J.J. makes sharing a meal an event, no matter who is around our table,” Briggs says. “He prepares food that is not only beautiful to the eye but also delicious to eat.”
Q: Why do you think people are becoming more interested in learning from where their food comes?
A: There are so many food choices in the United States, but with the early onset of diabetes and obesity in our country, people are realizing that they need to make smart food choices. BestFoodFacts.org is a great resource that is a network of hundreds of scientists and dietitians giving information on everything from what the albumen in an egg is to the use of parabens in processed foods. If you have a question about food, you can search for answers or ask an expert on the website.
Research shows that people’s Number 1 concern regarding food is that healthy options are affordable. It’s also not about demonizing one food over another but making educated choices. When eggs have packaging that says, “Gluten-free!” you realize that maybe people don’t really know that gluten is a protein found in wheat.
I grew up in Atwood, Kansas, and credit my mom, Diane Jones, and my grandmother Opal Greene with instilling in me a love of food and cooking.
Q: Is your food style about getting back to basics?
A: Both Kevin and I inherited a love of good food and wine from our grandmothers. We not only enjoy sharing wonderful meals with each other, and friends and family, but we also love making new friends after they enjoy a meal at our home as the result of a winning bid at a benefit auction. From brunches to fondue parties and quick pop-up meals to garden parties, we always enjoy opening our kitchen to share our joy of food and wine.
Q: With all the recipes you prepare, why did you choose this salad to share?
A: This time of year I tend to think of recipes that combine the grill — we love being in our backyard — with wonderful tastes from our garden and the farmers market. One of my all-time favorites for a quick meal is this steak salad, which borrows inspiration from the Grand Street Cafe’s version. Like my grandmother, I tend to use recipes as a guide, but add and modify as I see fit.
I marinate the meat prior to leaving for work in the morning, and then we have a quick meal to assemble when Kevin and I get home at night. We love eating outside on our back deck, enjoying blooms in our garden and listening to the rushing water of our water garden. The perfect finish to this wonderful salad is Kevin’s raspberry pie.
Q: For you, food seems to be about not only nourishing the body but also about nourishing relationships.
A: So many memories and the remembrance of good times are tied into the enjoyment of food with others. And when I make a dish that we enjoyed on vacation, or I bake a batch of Opal’s bread dough, it extends the memory of those happy times.
Both Kevin’s and my grandparents come from the Depression era, and we learned to garden, be good stewards of the land and compost before it became fashionable to do so. We need to reconnect with the land — and maybe the first step in that is reconnecting with the foods we eat and the people with whom we share meals.
I think “The Motivation Manifesto” by Brendon Burchard says it best: “We must return to more dignified times, when food was not something we wolfed down on the run, but something with meaning that brought nourishment, joy and connection into our lives.”
Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. Send email to her at firstname.lastname@example.org to nominate a cook.
JJ’s Steak Salad
Makes 4 servings
For the dressing:
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon prepared horseradish, optional
1/2 cup blue cheese crumbles, divided use
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
For the salad:
1/2 cup bourbon
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 (24-ounce) flank steak
4 tablespoons butter
2 medium sweet onions, halved and sliced thin
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
16 mini bell peppers, cleaned
2 heads romaine lettuce, washed, spun dry and cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 cup halved grape or cherry tomatoes
To prepare the dressing: In a small bowl, whisk mayonnaise, sour cream, optional horseradish, 1/4 cup blue cheese, salt and pepper together. Cover bowl with plastic wrap or lid and place in refrigerator to allow flavors to meld.
To prepare the salad: At least 1 hour before preparation, in a small bowl, whisk bourbon, brown sugar and red pepper flakes together. Transfer into a large, resealable plastic bag and place flank steak inside. Seal bag and place in refrigerator to marinate.
Melt butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat on stovetop. Add onions and sugar, and sauté until caramelized. Set aside.
Meanwhile, prepare a hot fire in grill. Season marinated flank steak on both sides with salt and pepper. Discard remaining marinade.
Heat a cast iron skillet on grill. Toss bell peppers in olive oil and place in skillet, stirring occasionally, taking each out of pan after developing charred skin.
Place seasoned beef onto heated grill and sear on one side for 3 to 5 minutes. Turn steak over and sear on other side for an additional 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat when an instant-read thermometer registers 150 degrees for medium doneness. Set aside, cover loosely with aluminum foil and allow meat to rest. De-stem and remove seeds from peppers, cutting into strips.
To assemble salad: Evenly divide lettuce between 4 plates. Slice steak across the grain of meat in thin strips and evenly distribute meat, bell pepper strips, onion and tomatoes over lettuce. Give each plate an equal portion of salad dressing and garnish with reserved blue cheese.
Per serving: 978 calories (68 percent from fat), 71 grams total fat (26 grams saturated), 153 milligrams cholesterol, 33 grams carbohydrates, 41 grams protein, 776 milligrams sodium, 6 grams dietary fiber.