Healthy spin on family favorites help fuel young family

By Abby Scalf
Daily Herald Correspondent
Updated 3/1/2016 3:41 PM

Whenever Anthony Caponigri has a cooking question, he can rely on a true chef to answer any of his questions.

After all, his dad worked many years in restaurants specializing in German and Italian cuisine and at one time owned his own restaurant offering American fare.


"Growing up, you figured everybody's dad knew how to do this," says our Cook of the Week from Hoffman Estates.

While most cooks consult the Internet or a cookbook his best resource is a phone call away.

"As I've gotten older, I definitely know the benefit of having that tool with me today," he said.

Anthony has another culinary expert in his arsenal, one who taught him how to prepare great food, his grandmother. For the past 10 years, he says he's tried to prepare her Italian specialties.

"Anybody who knows my family knows my nonna's meatballs and her pasta sauce. It has a unique taste to it. It is unbelievable how good it is," he said. "As I've gotten older I've tried to replicate it. I think she leaves out some ingredients because it never comes out perfectly as good as hers."

While Anthony said he loves to cook because he simply loves food, cooking also gives him the chance to prepare the food he likes in a healthier way, especially now for wife, Sam, and their kids Rocco and Jax.

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"I hear people tell me a lot that eating healthy food can be bland, not many flavors," he said. "As I've started living on my own and having a wife and kids, it's grown to become almost a challenge. How can I make a meal that my kids are going to eat, that tastes good but is still good for us?"

He says it takes proper fuel to raise two young children. "You need energy and realize the food that you put in your body is going to give you energy to get through your day."

Some of his go-to ingredients include such white meats as chicken breasts and ground turkey and a bounty of vegetables including cucumbers, peppers and a family favorite, spaghetti squash. Enjoy his healthier version of chicken Parmesan, which he shares today.

The key to keeping healthier meals on the table while balancing work and being a dad he says is keeping a routine and planning a weeklong menu.

"It helps with time management, so when we get home I know what we need to cook or before we leave the house to defrost what we need or get the crockpot started," he said. "It also helps save us money because we just buy only what we need for the week. We're not wasting a ton of food."


And while both kids are happy to eat healthier foods, Anthony admits his son Rocco has a sweet tooth. But it depends on the time of day.

"He will walk downstairs after eating breakfast, and he'll say 'OK now I am going to have some chocolate.' I will tell him, 'no you're not going to have chocolate at 8:30 in the morning. Good try though,'" he said. "I tell my wife I can't yell at him because he's acting just like you."

When it's time to plan the menu, often Anthony finds influence from cuisines around the world. Cooking, he said, is an opportunity to keep learning.

"I've really started liking and learning and taking up different styles and different spices and flavorings that pair up well together," he said.

His inspiration, he said, often starts after trying a new dish at a restaurant.

"If I go to a Mexican restaurant, I am not just going to have a taco," he said. "I will want to order an authentic Mexican meal and pick out something that I like about the meal. When I have something good at a restaurant, I wonder how I can make this at home. It's that challenge, competitive drive to figure out how to recreate it at home."

Sometimes, his desire to create the perfect dish is not only to feed family. He likes to challenge himself and create the perfect dish when entertaining, too.

"Sometimes, it drives her (Sam) crazy if we're going to a party and I say I don't want to make just a normal chip and dip appetizer. I want to do something better," he said. "She will say just make the chips and dip. Sometimes she will say I'm crazy, but she definitely likes it. She keeps me on my toes because I have to keep thinking up new ideas so I can make different meals and she doesn't get sick of my cooking."

It's not only his wife that knows how much that he loves to cook and enjoys it too.

"A couple of my buddies laugh and say I should have an appetizer called Appetizers by Anthony," he said. "If you know me, you know I love to entertain and to feed people."

Some appetizers you may find someday on that website may be his London broil sandwiches or buffalo chicken dip. Or make his bacon guacamole, an appetizer that is popular but may not be exactly healthy.

"When you're cooking for other people, sometimes you have to be a little bad," he said.

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