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.
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:
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
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.
Congratulations to Sandi Svoboda, the big winner of our Extreme Food Makeover Competition. Read on for her yummy soup recipe using rutabaga.
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.
- 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).
- 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.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.
Then… … and now!
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I have somewhat of an altruistic personality. I believe in volunteering in the community – such as the American Red Cross and Historic Fort Wayne to name a few. I believe that everyone, especially seniors, are entitled to the care, dignity, and wellbeing that they deserve. I am currently employed in the healthcare field in the dietary department. This was my goal since I decided to leave a “desk job”. Once I found out that experience was essential, even in a field which I had never worked, I decided to, as they say, “get educated”.
What made you pursue a culinary career?
I wanted to work in the healthcare field (senior living, assisted living, nursing home etc.). I responded to an ad for a cook assistant in 2008. The only requirement was “able to read a recipe”. I did not get the job due to inexperience in this type of setting. So I entered the Culinary Arts Program at Macomb Community College. I thought receiving the Prep Cook Certification (three classes – Sanitation, Culinary Techniques and Skills Development) would give me at least some experience working in a professional kitchen. I was interested in the internship program. I contacted Chef Nader at Ford Field and he agreed. At this point, I declared Culinary Arts as my major. Once I did that, completing the program was inevitable.
What is your fondest food memory?
Cooking with my dad …… was becoming a Chef predetermined?
How did you first get involved with Cooking Matters?
While taking the Culinary Techniques course in 2009, Chef Hollingsworth informed us of Gleaners Community Food Bank which was involved with Cooking Matters. I contacted Gleaners, attended their training class, completed the background checks, and volunteered for my first class.
What is the best thing about volunteering with us?
Meeting all the participants and learning as much from them as I am able to teach them from what I’ve learned from my formal education. Life experiences far exceed book learning.
What do you do in your spare time?
I’ve let a lot of my house chores lapse while continuing my education and now I’m spending as much time as I can getting my house in order. I was interested in volunteering with the Rising Stars Academy but then I started a new career in the healthcare field. So I have, unfortunately, let my volunteerism lapse temporarily. Once I get myself in order, I’ll be better able to service others. I still make time for Cooking Matters because “cooking matters”. I think getting involved with the meal programs in the schools is also very important. So much to do, so little time !
Do you have a favorite recipe to share with us?
Prepare some rice. In a sauté pan, cook some diced chicken breast, add the rice, add some chicken stock, then add some kale.
Don’t forget the seasonings……. I experiment with just about anything in my pantry except salt and black pepper !
It’s not really a “recipe” but is very easy to prepare with as many variations as you can think of just by changing the protein, grain, vegetable, and liquid. More liquid will result in more of a soup like consistency.
Protein – fish, pork, ground sausage, turkey, beef, and even various canned beans.
Grains – rice such as brown, basmati, or jasmine; quinoa, couscous and other pasta.
Vegetables – fresh, frozen or canned.
Liquids – chicken, beef, or vegetable stocks – low sodium.
As we say in Cooking Matters, adjust any recipe to what you have in your pantry and make it your own.
Mary and Congressman Conyers, who visited her last Cooking Matters class!