Volunteer Spotlight: Carolyn Sagi

Carolyn and Kate

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am originally from Metro Detroit.  I lived for several years in Florida, but am very glad to be back in Michigan.  I hold an MS in Industrial-Organizational Psychology, and a BS in Psychology and Human Resource Development.  In my career, I’ve worked primarily in Training and Performance Improvement.  I’ve been very fortunate to work with some wonderful people and organizations such as the United States Agency for International Development, Army, Navy, and Fish and Wildlife Service.


How did you become involved with Cooking Matters?

A little over a year ago, I saw a local news story about a Gleaners fundraiser.  I was interested in opportunities to make a positive impact in the lives of those at risk of hunger, and visited the Gleaners website to do some research.  I learned about Cooking Matters through that research.  The program stood out immediately as a combination of my professional interest in training, and personal interests in nutrition, culinary science, and healthy, affordable lifestyle.  When I saw volunteer opportunities that were a good fit with my skills, I contacted the team and began training to support the program.


What about the Volunteer Class Manager position appeals most to you?

I don’t know that there is one aspect of the Course Manager position that appeals most.  I enjoy the opportunity to make a positive impact.  I enjoy engaging learners, sharing content, facilitating discussion, collaborating with a variety of stakeholders, and generally supporting a team in a positive learning environment.  I volunteered to take on the role because I enjoy professional experiences where I perform very similar work, and because I believe in the Cooking Matters program.


I also volunteer as a Cooking Matters Class Assistant, and am more than happy to support other Class Managers.  There are so many exceptional people involved in this program.  It is always a wonderful experience to be involved.


What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned from being involved in Cooking Matters?

I learn something every time I attend a Cooking Matters class.  The instructors, materials, and participants are truly fantastic.  I recently heard a great discussion on the benefits of whole grains, but I was probably most surprised to learn you can reduce the salt content of canned foods by rinsing them.


Perhaps the most interesting and rewarding items come from participants’ experiences.  There is nothing more interesting than learning how Cooking Matters impacts participants’ lives.  In the words of one participant, the course was “life changing.”


What ingredients do you always keep in your kitchen?

I usually have a few whole grains, fresh, frozen, canned, and dry fruits and vegetables, canned and dry legumes, and several dried herbs and spices.  My current favorites include:  farro, brown rice, spinach, sweet potatoes, apples, black beans, almonds, thyme, cilantro, and various peppers.


What do you do in your spare time?

I enjoy time with friends and family.  I am very fond of walking, light hiking, and yoga.  I like reading, writing, photography, and I quite enjoy cooking.  I also enjoy learning.


Do you have any special tips for saving money at the grocery store?

I believe there are many ways to save money at the grocery store.  For me, the most effective has been to learn to cook, and take action on the information I have about basic nutrition.  Those things combine to help me shop for healthier and more affordable ingredients, and give me the tools to use up all the food I buy.  I find it very helpful to have a growing number of favorite recipes, a pantry of versatile staples, and a strategy for using or storing items that are either leftover or a great value on sale.  A garden for herbs, fruits, and vegetables can also be very helpful.


Do you have a favorite recipe that you’d like to share with us?

One of my current favorites is Asian Noodles with Peanut Butter Sauce.  This recipe actually comes from the Cooking Matters course.  I add one or two more vegetables, and follow some of the optional chef’s notes, but the Cooking Matters recipe is delicious exactly as written.

It can be served warm or cold, so it makes a nice recipe to transition to the warmer weather I hope is coming very soon.  For a warm dish, omit the cucumber, or replace with 1/2 cup shelled soy beans.  It is also excellent with chicken or tofu.



1 (16 ounce) package whole wheat pasta

1/4 Cup peanut butter

1/3 Cup warm water

1/4 Cup low-sodium soy sauce

2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar

4 teaspoons lightly packed brown sugar

2 teaspoons red pepper flakes

1/2 teaspoon minced ginger or 1/4 teaspoon dried ginger

1 bag frozen sugar snap peas, thawed in the refrigerator for one or two days

1 medium cucumber, diced or 1/2 Cup shelled soy beans

1 small green, red, or yellow pepper, diced

fresh cilantro, or 1 green onion, thinly sliced



1.  Cook and drain pasta as directed by manufacturer.

2.  Stir to combine peanut butter and water in a medium bowl.  Mix in soy sauce, vinegar, brown sugar, red pepper flakes, and ginger to make a sauce.

3.  Pour sauce over cooked pasta.  Mix to evenly coat pasta.  Top with peas, cucumber, and pepper.  Garnish with a few cilantro leaves, or green onion slices.


Serves 8, and halves nicely

April 14, 2014 at 5:16 pm Leave a comment

Volunteer Spotlight: Joanne Sycko MS, MBA, RD

Joanne Sycko

I grew up on a beef cattle farm in northwest Indiana that has been in my family for over 100 years. My father was born there and my brother still lives there.   I was very active in 4-H as a child and teenager, raising cattle and hogs as well as learning to sew.

While study Home Economics at Marygrove College ,  I became interested in Nutrition and Dietetics.  The biochemistry of nutrition and the chemistry of food science interested me.  I went on to earn a MS in Nutrition Science from MSU after completing my undergraduate degree and worked under supervision for the Children and Youth Project at the University of Texas Health Science Center to complete my requirements to be able to take the dietetic registration exam.  Over the years I have raised a family, taught at Marygrove and Madonna, worked in 2 community mental health agencies, three hospitals and earned an MBA degree.

I am the outgoing president of the Southeastern Michigan Dietetic Association.  SEMDA is a local affiliate of the of the Michigan Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and The American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.  SEMDA’s purpose is to promote optimal nutrition and well-being for all, as well as to provide a professional network for registered dietitians/nutritionists in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Monroe and St. Clair counties and to facilitate collaboration and support.  SEMDA helps to promote programs such as Cooking Matters, provides grants to members for community outreach programs during National Nutrition Month, and provides education programs and a spring conference for members and non-members.  I actually learned about the Cooking Matters Program at a SEMDA meeting.

I think I enjoy teaching Cooking Matters classes because I enjoyed teaching my children to cook and enjoy nutritious food as they grew.    I have taught adult, teen and diabetic classes, and I am currently teaching a family class.  I enjoy seeing children and adults gain knowledge and confidence as they learn food prep skills and try new foods and flavors.  And I have enjoyed learning from the program participants as they share their food traditions with me.

Trying to juggle my current job as clinical nutrition manager at Crittenton Hospital Medical Center in Rochester with visits to children and grandchildren in 5 different states, tends to leave me with little time for my hobbies of sewing and gardening, and my newest hobby of running. But I always try to find time to teach at least one class of Cooking Matters each year.  With National Nutrition Month beginning, I cannot think of anything better than making a resolution to teach at least one Cooking Matters Class annually.

My favorite recipes tend to be foods that can be prepared in advance and put in the “fridge” or the freezer for those “I don’t have time to cook” emergencies (i.e. the days I teach Cooking Matters, or go to the gym, or run).  My freezer has chili and homemade soups.  In the fridge, I like to have prepped fresh veggies for salads, with canned beans, cheese, roasted sunflower seeds or walnuts to sprinkle on top.  My favorite kitchen gadget is my salad spinner, where a rinsed and torn head of Romaine keeps an incredibly long time.  My favorite salads are also made with pasta or cooked grains (brown rice, bulgar, quinoa, barley); vegetables, mushrooms and cooked meats or fish.  I can make these on the weekends and not have to worry that my husband will starve if I have to work late.  I learned this from having five very athletic children who always seemed to be walking in the door starving, at all hours of the day or night after football, soccer, swimming.

March 6, 2014 at 2:39 pm 1 comment

Volunteer Spotlight: Lydia Lanni


Tell us a little about yourself.

I am a student at Wayne State University, living in midtown, and just finishing up my Master’s degree in Nutrition and Food Science. I currently work in the Immunology Department as a research aide, so a lot of my time is spent in a laboratory, but I am also a volunteer at Cass Community Social Services and the Children’s Hospital. In my free time I love to bake, sew, and visit the Detroit Film Theater.

When did you first become interested in nutrition?

I come from a large Italian family, so food has always been a huge part of my life, but I became interested in the study of nutrition after taking an anatomy and physiology course. I was fascinated by the complexity of the human body, and it really brought home the message of “you are what you eat”.

Why did you want to get involved in Cooking Matters?

I had been looking for an opportunity to apply my education outside of the laboratory, and a friend who had previously volunteered for Cooking Matters recommended the program to me. After signing up for one course, I was hooked. It has been a wonderful opportunity to reach out to the community in which I live, share my knowledge of nutrition, and promote healthy lifestyle choices.

You taught four kids classes back to back last year.  What do like most about working with that age group?

Kids are very receptive, and I love the enthusiasm they bring to each course. They are always eager to share about the recipes and lessons they have taken home to their friends and families. I think it is extremely important that healthy eating habits are established early on, so it is wonderful to see how participants in this course get excited to learn about cooking and nutrition.

What’s the funniest thing a kid has ever said to you in class?

It was during the lesson on Smart Shoppers, and I was asking the class if they ever went grocery shopping with their family. A few students said yes, so I asked, “What is the most important thing to do before going to the grocery store?” and a student exclaimed with such certainty, “PUT YOUR CLOTHES ON!”

Do you have a recipe that you’d like to share?

When I was younger, my favorite meal was meatloaf and I always requested it for my birthday dinner. Since my birthday is this month, I wanted to share my interpretation of this dish:

Turkey Meatloaf

1/4 cup quinoa

1/2 cup water

1 1/2 pounds ground turkey,

2/3 cup chopped yellow onion

1/2 cup chopped red or green bell pepper

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1/2 cup ketchup

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • Place quinoa and water in saucepan and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until quinoa is tender, and the water has been absorbed, about 15 minutes. Set aside
  • Place turkey in a large bowl. Add onion, bell pepper, quinoa, egg, 1tablespoon ketchup, garlic, salt, and pepper. Gently mix until ingredients are well combined. Transfer turkey mixture to a 1-pound loaf pan.
  • Place remaining ketchup in a small bowl; stir in cayenne pepper. Spoon ketchup mixture evenly over meatloaf, spreading with the back of a spoon.
  • Bake meatloaf 45 to 50 minutes. It should be browned on top and cooked through.
  • Remove pan from oven and let meatloaf stand 5 minutes before serving

February 4, 2014 at 9:00 am Leave a comment

2013 in Review

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January 7, 2014 at 9:58 am Leave a comment

Volunteer Spotlight: Dave Zabihaylo

Dave Zabihaylo

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your family.

I’m happily married to Katherine and have two rambunctious dogs. We live in Ferndale and are long-time area residents. Although my wife came from a restaurant family I’m the cook at home and we are both pretty happy about that arrangement.

What led you to Cooking Matters?

I love cooking and was looking for the most fulfilling way to spread my enthusiasm in the kitchen. Last year I focused heavily on eating healthier, as well, and was able to lose 50 lbs through changing my diet and focusing mostly on vegetables and simply-cooked meat. I really wanted a way to help others make healthier eating choices and Cooking Matters was a perfect fit.

What ingredients do you use most when you are cooking?

Vegetables! I love roasting whole chickens and lean red meat, but every meal starts around the vegetable we’ll be having. I really like cooking veggies in new ways like roasting broccoli, which brings out an amazing, nutty taste that you just don’t usually get steaming or boiling it.

Do you have any tips for saving money at the grocery store?

Think seasonally and plan ahead. Buying veggies and fruit that are in season are always the tastiest, but typically are the cheapest, too for fresh.

What is your favorite “sometimes” or “special occasion” food?

Ice cream…I stick to the very smallest portion I can buy, and even then I only buy one. If I kept a whole pint in the house it’d be really hard not to have the whole thing if I let myself.

Do you have a recipe that you would like to share?

I was really pleased to see a ratatouille in the coursework for Cooking Matters, but I’d like to think that mine is even better…


1 large eggplant

2 large zucchini (equal portion to the eggplant)

1 medium spanish/yellow onion

2 red or yellow bell peppers, whichever are fresher at the market

2 cans (28 oz total) diced tomato, drained (recommend San Marzano)

3 cloves fresh garlic

Extra virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Peel eggplant and zucchini and dice into 1/4″ pieces. Dice onion and set aside. Core peppers and dice into slightly larger pieces than zucchini and eggplant.

Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil into a non-stick skillet on medium-high until nearly smoking. Add eggplant and roast until brown. Turn only a few times to ensure good carmelization. The eggplant will absorb much of the oil, and slowly start to release as it cooks. Remove eggplant with slotted spoon or spatula and add to dutch oven or large, heavy-bottomed pot.

Roast zucchini in existing olive oil until caramelized. Add 1 tablespoon if necessary. Remove with slotted spoon to dutch oven or heavy pot.

Roast onion until just browned and remove to dutch oven or heavy pot.

Roast peppers- keep an eye on them, as they burn easily. Turn down heat if necessary to avoid burning. Remove peppers with slotted spoon to dutch oven or heavy pot.

Add drained tomatoes and raw garlic to dutch oven, season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Turn heat on to very low and let simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. The bottom veggies will just start to caramelize.

Serve with brown rice, quinoa, toasted whole wheat bread, or alongside meat. Hearty enough to serve on its own but great as a side dish, as well.

January 6, 2014 at 11:25 am Leave a comment


Congratulations to Sandi Svoboda, the big winner of our Extreme Food Makeover Competition.  Read on for her yummy soup recipe using rutabaga.

EMF Photo Collage

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Rutabaga

By Sandi Svoboda

Thick, a bit sweet, spicy enough to warm you up, this soup is perfect with grilled cheese, salad and/or a roasted meat dish. The roasting vegetables will warm up your kitchen and make it smell glorious for hours. Until you add anything, it’s even vegan.

Serving Suggestions:

  • Supplement the soup with spinach or roasted tomatoes (pictured) and a dollop of low-fat plain yogurt.
  • Add some a can of low-salt red beans or chick peas to make it a more complete dish.
  • Serve with toasted whole wheat bread.



  • 2 small rutabagas, cut into roughly ½-3/4 inch pieces and peeled
  • 2 small onions, one sliced, one chopped
  • 1 medium butternut squash, cut into roughly ½-3/4 inch pieces and peeled
  • 2 serrano peppers
  • 5 T. Olive oil
  • 1 tsp. Canola oil
  • 4-6 c. vegetable broth, low-salt



  • Preheat oven to 375-400 degrees F.
  • In three separate pans (because cooking times vary) spread out the rutabagas, squash and peppers.
  • Toss the canola oil with the peppers.
  • Toss 2 T olive oil and the sliced onion with the rutabaga.
  • Toss 2 T. olive oil with the butternut squash.
  • Roast all three pans, stirring every 10 minutes or so, until the vegetables are just starting to brown on the edges. They should be fairly soft (except the peppers).
  • Cool.
  • As soon as the peppers are cool enough to handle, cut them in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Mince the peppers. (Wear gloves if you are sensitive to peppers. Wash your hands well afterward, several times, before touching near your eyes.)
  • Heat the remaining T of olive oil in a large pot. Add the chopped onion and sautee until soft, about 4-5 minutes. Add the minced peppers. Sautee another 2-3 minutes, stirring often and being careful not to burn the ingredients.
  • Add the squash and rutabaga and ½ c. of the broth. Stir to combine and gently heat.
  • When you think the vegetables are heated through, add the remaining broth and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally. Then reduce the heat and let it simmer for as long as you think it needs. (No, really!) This can be between 10 and 45 minutes.
  • Let cool. Then puree in batches in a blender or with a wand blender in the pot. Add more broth if it seems to thick.
  • Rewarm and serve.

December 20, 2013 at 12:18 pm Leave a comment

It’s time for another Extreme Food Makeover!

It’s that time of year again! This season, we want you to makeover a favorite holiday food using the at least one of three secret ingredients. The goal is to incorporate healthy cooking or baking techniques and nutritious ingredients while maintaining the essence of the dish. Participants will need to email their recipes and pictures of the dish to Marisa at mhrbal@gcfb.org by midnight on Sunday, December 15th. Winners will be announced on Wednesday, December 18.

The competition is open to ANYONE who wants to participate.
Both the winner and the runner up will receive some awesome prizes.

And the secret ingredients are…



This purple-topped produce, often confused with a turnip, is actually not a root vegetable, but a cruciferous vegetable. The rutabaga evolved as a cross between wild cabbage and the turnip. It has globular roots and a pale yellow, fine-grained skin and flesh.  It is often described as peppery-sweet when raw and soft and sweet when cooked.   Dating back to the 17th century it was first eaten in Southern Europe and was used as both animal fodder and human food.  Harvested in autumn and the winter months, rutabagas are hearty vegetables that store well and are rich in beta-carotene and high in fiber.  One serving supplies 30% of our daily vitamin A intake and 35% of Vitamin C.

FUN FACT: The International Rutabaga Curling championship takes place annually at Ithaca Farmers’ Market in Greece on the last day of market season.



Known as the “food of the Gods” in the Greek language and culture, persimmons are a mystery to many consumers.  There are several kinds of persimmon native to Asia, Europe, and the Americas.   In the States, they are grown commercially in California, but persimmons are more widely used and well-known in countries like Japan where the persimmon is the National Fruit and traditional food of the Japanese New Year.

Fun Fact: Astringent varieties of persimmon have a delicate, sweet flavor when ripe but are bitter, or even inedible, when unripe.



An “ugly duckling” of the vegetable world, celeriac or celery root is a much underrated vegetable.  It is a celery variety, but is also the cousin of anise, carrots, parsley and parsnips.  With a creamy white flesh it tastes like a subtle blend of parsley and celery.  This is another vegetable that stores well, it is an excellent source of dietary fiber and a great starch substitute.  In Europe celeraic is a historic favorite  has been used for medicinal and religious purposes.

FUN FACT:  Don’t toss the tops!  While not the same variety as standard grocery store celery, the stalks sprouting from root are definitely edible.


December 9, 2013 at 5:30 pm Leave a comment

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USDA Statement

This material was partially funded by the State of Michigan with federal funds from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by way of the Michigan Nutrition Network at the Michigan Fitness Foundation. This work is supported in part by the Michigan Department of Human Services, under contract number ADMIN-10-99011. Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Michigan Fitness Foundation or the Michigan Department of Human Services. In accordance with Federal law and USDA policy, these institutions are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, religion, political beliefs or disability. To file a complaint of discrimination, write USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, 1400 Independence Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20250-9410 or call (800) 795-3272 (voice) or (202) 720- 6382 (TTY). USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program provides nutrition assistance to people with low income. It can help you buy nutritious foods for a better diet. To find out more contact the toll free Michigan Food Assistance Program Hotline at (855) ASK-MICH. Space-Limited USDA/DHS/MNN Credit Statement This material was partially funded by the State of Michigan with federal funds from the United States Department of Agriculture Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by way of the Michigan Nutrition Network at the Michigan Fitness Foundation. These institutions are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, religion, political beliefs or disability. People who need help buying nutritious food for a better diet call the toll free Michigan Food Assistance Program Hotline: (855) ASK-MICH.


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