Posts tagged ‘food’
For the past few months we have had the invaluable help of John Heikka, our chef intern extraordinaire. John just recently wrapped up his internship with us and put into words his experiences and shared with us what brought him to the wonderful world of cooking. He is also teaching a class in Pontiac as a volunteer so we are happy to keep him among our volunteer ranks!
Here’s his story:
I’ve been married to my wife Jan for 25 years, and while we have had some challenges like any couple. She is the absolute best. I appreciate so much her ongoing support throughout the last and very trying 6 years. Jan is the cook for a day care in Sterling Heights and amazes me with how many different dishes she can produce with a microwave and rice cooker (their facility does not have a stove).
We have two great kids, Robert and Sandra. Robert is now 19 and enrolled and excelling at CAD design at ITT Tech. Robert is a volunteer in our church’s children’s ministry and works as a counselor at “Kids Camp” every summer. Sandra is 12 going on 38. She is certainly an incredibly gifted and talented young lady. Sandra also is a volunteer in our children’s ministry where she teaches and sings. She is currently taking piano as well. Sandra is a straight A student and a member of a student organization dedicated to fighting hunger. She is also my “Sous Chef” at home. They are the best people I know and I am looking forward to going back to “hanging” with them, since my schooling is over.
I am a Detroiter and darn proud of that. I grew up the literal definition of a “fan (atic) of the Lions, Tigers, Pistons, Wings and Wolverines. I graduated high school in 1973 from East Detroit and studied for three years at Sacred Heart Seminary to become a Catholic priest. Got that one wrong! I like Catholics, nothing personal, but I’m not even Catholic anymore. In the early 80’s I met Jan, and left my pursuit of an accounting degree for marital bliss. Back then you could get a job, work hard and just keep moving up. I did just that working for a commercial leasing company and a sub-contractor for 20 years in collections and customer service. I also became an amateur baseball umpire while volunteering at church in the children’s ministry.
I lost my job with the now defunct sub-contractor in November 2005 and we ended up losing our house and basically, as it seemed, our life. I had two surgeries including a heart repair procedure, and after that it was just impossible to land a job that lasted. The four of us currently abide in a 950-square-foot apartment in Warren. I hope to change that soon!
Finally, someone told me that I need to go back to school. So I said, if I have to go back to school, then I am going to have fun. So I enrolled back at Macomb Community College in the Culinary Arts program. I had spent some time teaching kids how to make bread and thought maybe there will be something there for me. And thus, in my last semester I landed a wonderful opportunity for an internship as a chef instructor at Gleaners Community Food Bank in the Cooking Matters program.
My ultimate goal is to be involved with food education. Food is certainly a magical thing. Can you think of any major life event/celebration that does not involve food? Most of them do. Food culture is a part of our families and society. I want to see well executed and simple foods of our traditions come back to our life events and certainly our families’ tables as a way to bring people together again. Somebody has to teach the skills and recipes that have been laid aside by past generations.
But for now, I will pursue a career as a prep cook or institutional cook and further hone my skills. But if the opportunity presents itself, I’ll jump on anything that involves the educational end of cookery.
Why he wanted to get involved in Cooking Matters
I was never a “restaurant guy” prior to my enrollment at Macomb and I’ve always had a passion for teaching. So it was a natural fit to develop my skills and confidence while having fun. You should love what you do and do what you love.
It all started early last November when I was conversing with Kathy Grech, our table service instructor at Macomb about how people are just going to have to learn how to take a chicken apart again due to rising food costs. She immediately told me to contact Jake Williams and I did. I would have been happy to just volunteer as a chef/instructor, so being offered the internship was like winning the Super Bowl.
Overall, the class participants were the main highlight. The opportunity to be part of a team teaching a lot of the basics I learned in school in a manner that has such potential to effectively change lives both mentally and physically, is just phenomenal.
I recall early on in a Kids Class in Highland Park this little quiet girl who appeared to be shoved aside by her classmates, telling me after the class in a barely audible volume, “Thank you.” You never know if they are abused, malnourished, bullied or all the above. Her face, voice and those two simple words will never leave me. It’s also what began to build a passion for food education and I knew I was in the right place.
One week we were doing Banana Quesadillas and the coordinator for the class left the honey and peanut butter in her vehicle overnight in the middle of winter. Our coordinators are all great, however they happen to be human, just like the rest of us. The honey needed to be mixed with the peanut butter and some cinnamon. I looked over and saw the participant visibly struggling to mix these extremely cold items. As I saw the clock ticking, I then decided to just put the stainless steel bowl on the stove and whisk as fast as I could. I knew it work, but not a few people around the room were looking at me in an interesting manner. The quesadillas were great. (Editor’s note: This was me. Sorry, John! –dorothy)
Just recently we completed a Spanish speaking class in Mexican Town and the ladies on their way out telling me in their broken English that they learned so much and “Gracias” was really cool stuff. Not so much their words, but their facial expressions make my day, because people lives are being changed for the better.
Every Week One class I do now usually has a sauté’ opportunity and I love asking them why chefs toss items in the pan. Every time somebody will say,” To mix all the items?”. And I always respond, “Well…that is part of it, but don’t I look cool!?!”
His secrets in the kitchen
Attitude. Your determination to succeed will be influenced by your determination. There are two kinds of kitchen experiences, success and education. Granted education can be a little disappointing, but if seek out the knowledge you were missing and are determined, then success will be yours!
In my perfect world, every kitchen has some cast iron cookware. It is economical, easy to clean and heats very evenly. I’ve used my Dutch Oven as a deep fryer. This stuff lasts forever.
Thirdly, salads are generally under used in everyday home cooking. They are healthy and interesting. To me, 4 ounces of beautifully seasoned and grilled beef tenderloin on top of some leafy greens with walnuts, gorgonzola cheese, dried cherries, and red onions with a nice homemade vinaigrette is just heaven! Fruit salads are great all day as well.
My most humbling experience came this last semester in school. I was going to make a tomato fennel soup, which in the past was really good with a lemon/lime gremolata garnish. In the middle of winter I decided to use fresh roma tomatoes instead of canned. It was a very educational experience. The tomatoes being out of season were so acidic, that the soup was complete disaster. I just kicked myself all the way home.
My most memorable moment came at home prior to Christmas. I was baking cinnamon bread while my wife and the kids were decorating the tree. The pine scent and the cinnamon aroma just says family and Christmas like nothing I’ve ever encountered.
Everyonewho is involved in cookery has a “food” activity that they find relaxing. For me, it is grilling some sort of protein or baking bread. I will still knead my bread by hand periodically. It’s good exercise! “Foodieism” can be a bit of a mental illness for some us.
I enjoy playing “competitive putt-putt” with my family. It gets verbally brutal, but we have fun. Also, you can find us in the fall picking apples and other produce when it’s available.
The whole family is big sports fans. We all play and spectate, especially pro football.
A healthy recipe
This is one of my new favorite recipes for a side dish. Simple and elegant. Very nutritious.
Onion, small dice 3 oz.
Olive Oil 1 Tbsp.
Quinoa, rinsed 4 oz, or ½ cup
Water or Vegetable Stock 8 fluid ounces or 1 cup
Kosher Salt To Taste
Pepper To Taste
1. In a small sauce pot, heat the oil and sauté the onions over medium heat for a couple minutes till they start to turn clear.
2. Add the quinoa and brown very slightly.
3. Add the stock or water and season with salt and pepper. For this recipe volume start with ¼ teaspoon of both.
4. Bring to a boil and immediately turn heat to low. Cover pot with lid and simmer till Quinoa has absorbed all the liquid.
You can add any vegetable with the onions. Any spice can be added with the salt and pepper. Any herb can be added at the very end.
You can adjust the salt and pepper at the end of cooking.
Tomorrow I’m going with a Cooking Matters for Adults class to Aldi for the grocery store trip and $10 challenge. The $10 Challenge is a fun way to put participants’ newfound cooking and budgeting knowledge to the test: Shoppers have a $10 budget to buy one healthy ingredient from each food group.
I went to the store today to give myself the $10 challenge and found some great stuff.
I already had an idea to make Asian lettuce wraps because I have leaf lettuce and cilantro at home as well as the seasonings (soy sauce, ginger, etc). I wasn’t sure what how to fulfill the other parts of the challenge, though, so I came in with a working list (fruit, low-fat cheese and brown rice) and decided to let prices and stock guide me.
Unfortunately there was no low-fat cheese or brown rice so I changed my game plan, selecting nonfat vanilla yogurt and thin whole wheat spaghetti. I figured I could make a fruit smoothie to drink and make noodles with peanut butter sauce (both recipes are personal faves from the CMA book!). I’m also planning to make sesame-ginger asparagus on the side.
After buying the food I realized I could make a whole different meal with the ingredients: whole wheat spaghetti with turkey meatballs with a yogurt parfait for dessert. I could toss the asparagus in a lemon vinaigrette for a side dish.
Now it’s your turn to take our $10 challenge: What five ingredients would you buy and what meal would you make?
The Detroit Free Press published a great Nutrition Quiz this week about that hard-to-pronounce grain – quinoa. We at Operation Frontline are infatuated with the little pseudocereal, often pairing it with the Ratatouille recipe in our classes.
So why is quinoa so great? According to quinoa.net (is there really a quinoa.net?),
1. It’s a VEGETARIAN solution, a balanced-amino-acid source of high quality protein.
2. It’s a SENIOR solution, a high-iron food that raises the hematocrit, delivers more oxygen to the brain, fights senility.
3. It’s a DIABETIC solution, a very low-glycemic-index cereal type food.
4. It’s a TASTE SOLUTION, quite delicious.
The president of the Quinoa Corporation, named Gorad, raves about the properties of the food, saying,
“Quinoa’s most pragmatic quality,” observed Gorad, “is that it’s a basic food with strong earth energy. People who try it categorically respond, ‘This tastes good!”
Now to test your knowledge -
1. First, some history: Where is the grain grown, and which ancient civilization first harvested it?
a) The Mayans in Mexico
b) The Incas in the Bolivian Andes
c) The Sudanese in the Sahara
2. How do you pronounce quinoa?
3. How much more of the daily value of protein does quinoa contain than whole wheat and rice, respectively?
a) 4.2% and 8.7%
b) 9.6% and 12.3%
c) 19.0% and 22.4%
4. Quinoa is significantly higher than whole wheat in lysine, an amino acid. Among other uses, the nutrient-absorbing lysine has been used for which condition?
For the answers, click here.
This morning, Good Morning America had a segment about how coupons can stretch your food dollars. Their featured mom, who has a family of six, spends an average of $4 a week on groceries. Now, how much of that is fresh produce? I can’t say, but it does make you think twice about throwing the circular away every week. You can see the rest of the article here.
A New York Times article last month pointed out that coupon use has increased during the recession, particulary digital coupons from websites that compile bargains. A few websites that are especially useful if you are pinching pennies are:
Stuffed Acorn Squash Serves 2
- 1 average acorn squash
- 1 tsp of cinnamon
- 1 tsp of nutmeg
- 2 1/2 Tbs of olive oil
- 2 cups of cooked short grain brown rice (cooked according to rice package instructions)
- 1 celery stalk diced finely
- 1 cup of raisins (golden raisins are best)
- 1 large Golden Delicious apple diced finely
- ½ medium red or yellow onion diced finely
- 1 teaspoon of maple syrup or to your taste
- Salt and pepper to your taste (optional), or Braggs Amino Acids to your taste
- Heat oven to 350 degree f.
- Take acorn squash, wash it off with soapy water and dry.
- Cut in half and take out the seeds and set aside.
- Mix together: 1 tsp of cinnamon *, 1 tsp of nutmeg *, and 2 ½ Tbs of olive oil
- Mix ingredients together and rub into each half of the squash.
- On a non-stick pan or glass dish, place squash face-down and bake in the oven for 30 – 35 minutes or until you can pierce the squash membrane with a fork.
- Remove squash from oven and set aside.
- Stuffing is prepared by mixing rice, raisins, vegetables, maple syrup and seasonings together until well mixed. Mixture is then placed in the squash and is ready for serving.
- Optional: Place stuffed squash back into the oven and cover for about 15 minutes for flavors to savor more.
- Serve by cutting in quarters and enjoy!
* Narrative of spice nutritional properties:
Cinnamon is said to be a strong stimulant for the glandular system and helpful with stomach upsets, colds and sore throat.
Nutmeg grated is excellent in custards, cakes, biscuits and pumpkin pie.
Did you read the recent New York Times article “Woman’s Shattered Life Shows Ground Beef Inspection Flaws”? A young woman named Stephanie Smith who worked as a children’s dance instructor fell ill to a severe form of food borne illness caused by E coli. Where did the illness come from? The Times wrote:
Ms. Smith, 22, was found to have a severe form of food-borne illness caused by E. coli, which Minnesota officials traced to the hamburger that her mother had grilled for their Sunday dinner in early fall 2007.
“I ask myself every day, ‘Why me?’ and ‘Why from a hamburger?’ ”Ms. Smith said. In the simplest terms, she ran out of luck in a food-safety game of chance whose rules and risks are not widely known.
What is E coli?
According to the CDC, E. coli “are a large and diverse group of bacteria. Although most strains of E. coli are harmless, others can make you sick. Some kinds of E. coli can cause diarrhea, while others cause urinary tract infections, respiratory illness and pneumonia, and other illnesses. Still other kinds of E. coli are used as markers for water contamination—so you might hear about E. coli being found in drinking water, which are not themselves harmful, but indicate the water is contaminated.”
Smith’s tragic story emphasizes why it’s not only important to be conscious of where your food comes from but also to remember the basics of kitchen safety to avoid contamination.
Here are some more things to be mindful of from the article:
- The Times reported the pathogen that struck Smith was so powerful that her illness could have started “with just a few cells left on a counter. ‘In a warm kitchen, E. coli cells will double every 45 minutes,’ said Dr. Mansour Samadpour, a microbiologist who runs IEH Laboratories in Seattle, one of the meat industry’s largest testing firms.”
- The Times did a test with some help from the labs and found that E. coli remained on the cutting board even after being washed with soap. Large amounts of bacteria were picked up by a towel.
- Speaking of cutting boards, the article mentioned people should use bleach to sterilize cutting boards.
Through our cooking-based nutrition classes, Operation Frontline Detroit teaches participants the basics of kitchen safety and keeping food safe (i.e. cooking to proper temperature). One of the easiest and most effective ways to prevent the spread of germs is proper hand washing.