Rueffert cookbook a guide to region’s best

If the next meal you ate might be your last, what would you choose?

For Hans Rueffert, a chef and contestant on the first season of “The Next Food Network Star,” it was a heaping plate of skirt steak fajitas from Mama Ninfa’s in Houston, shortly before surgery for gastric cancer that removed half of his stomach.

With big meals a thing of the past, Rueffert developed a renewed appreciation for fresh, simple foods. Now he gets excited about black-eyed peas eaten fresh from the garden, or a slice of good bread with butter.

That respect for quality over quantity shines through in Rueffert’s new cookbook and memoir, “Eat Like There’s No Tomorrow.” For Southerners who want to eat local food in season, it’s a delicious guidebook to the region’s best: Peaches, shrimp, pecans, apples, figs and Vidalia onions.

Starting with asparagus, in season at Georgia farmers markets through early June, the book offers simple recipes and a bit of background for some 30 seasonal foods. Along with recipes such as blueberry cornbread and honey-cumin okra, there are essays on choosing organic and transitional foods, why locally grown matters and what it’s like to grow up in the restaurant business. (His family owns the Woodbridge Inn in Jasper, Ga.)

Rueffert gathered many of the stories while traveling around Georgia taping episodes of “Hans Cooks the South.” The most poignant story of all weaves through the book, as he writes of battling cancer and returning to health.

Soon after finishing the self-published book, Rueffert started suffering more health problems. He’s making some appearances to promote the cookbook, but currently is back in Houston for follow-up. And he’s hoping for many more tomorrows.

For more on Hans Rueffert, check out his web site. The book has a Facebook fan page, Eat Like There’s No Tomorrow.

“Eat Like There’s No Tomorrow” is available online from and also from Out of the Blue, a gourmet retailer based in Blue Ridge, Ga.

Asparagus Salad With Lemon Yogurt Vinaigrette
Serves two
Hands-on time: 10 minutes
Total time: 15 minutes

In the notes to this recipe, from “Eat Like There’s No Tomorrow,” Hans Rueffert notes that grilling the lemons adds a caramel sweetness to the recipe. You can use a grill pan or outdoor grill to prepare the asparagus and lemons. Asparagus and arugula are in season through the spring in farmers markets.

3 lemons, halved
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 to 8 asparagus spears (about ½ pound)
1½ tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ cup plain yogurt
Salt and pepper to taste
3 cups fresh arugula
3 tablespoons fresh goat cheese
Zest from one lemon

Grill the lemons pulp side down on medium heat, rotating them occasionally so that they don’t burn. When they’ve softened up a bit and have some nice color on them, set the lemons to the side and let them rest while you work on the asparagus. Add the oil to the pan and sauté/grill the asparagus over medium heat for two to three minutes. The asparagus should be warm throughout, but still crunchy.

To make the dressing, use a fork to remove the juice and pulp from the grilled lemons. Place in a small bowl. Add vinegar, mustard, garlic, yogurt, salt and pepper. Whisk to combine. Arrange the arugula in a large bowl. Crumble the goat cheese over the arugula and add the dressing. Toss the salad thoroughly, place on a plate and top with the grilled asparagus. Add a sprinkle of lemon zest and a little cracked pepper and you’re good to go.

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