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Chef's choice

You're not supposed to go grocery shopping on an empty stomach, but it's even more torturous to plan a lunchtime excursion in the company of an acclaimed local chef.

Kristine Subido, executive chef of Wave restaurant at the W Hotel-Chicago Lakeshore, buys food for her family at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. Subido likes Whole Foods for its fresh produce and meat department. At Trader Joe's, she stocks up on gourmet pre-made and frozen meals.

* Apricot flan tart, $4.99
Earlier this week she showed me her favorite items from both stores and shared a couple of simple recipes she makes for her family.

"As a chef you gravitate toward seasonal products," she says as we walk through the produce department at Whole Foods. She steers me toward the Honeycrisp apples ($2.49/lb), which she and her 3-year-old son Kamlin enjoy with cashew butter. "It's apple season right now," she says. "Honeycrisp apples are sweet and crunchy with a little acidity."

She also suggests picking up a $2.99 mushroom sampler that contains a mix of several varieties: brown clamshell, alba clamshell, trumpet royale and oyster mushroom. "You can pan roast these with fresh herbs, garlic and shallots, and serve them as a side dish with salmon or filet mignon," she says.

In the salad section, she stays away from bagged lettuce because, "it gets squished and bruised." Instead, she likes salad blends by Earthbound Farm, $3.99, that come in plastic containers. She tops salads with Fresh Organic Ginger Dressing by 365 Organic, $2.99. She says it's also a good marinade for fish or chicken.

"I always get beans and rice in bulk," she says, advising we stay away from the bulk nuts, which are better fresh. She suggests the organic French lentils, at $2.69/lb, which she serves as a side dish cooked in stock with carrot, celery and onion.

It's a relief to learn that even chefs like the convenience of frozen foods. Subido points to a bag of frozen super sweet white corn, $1.67, and says her son enjoys it as a healthy snack. "They're so sweet he eats them frozen and thinks they're candy," she says. She also stir-fries them with onion, peppers, garlic and soy sauce.

Finally, for dessert Subido pulls out a pint of Ciao Bella pistachio gelato, $4.39. "We use it at the restaurant," she says. "But you can serve it at home with brittle on top or over lemon pound cake."

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