Archive for October, 2009

Food Budgeting: Coupons

 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:

  1. Red Plum
  3. Cellfire
  4. Susan Samtur’s Select Coupon Program
  5. Freebies 4 Mom

October 29, 2009 at 6:24 pm Leave a comment

Recipe Developed by OFL: Detroit Volunteer Appears in The Dallas Morning News

This past week, The Dallas Morning News showcased a recipe in their article “Barley Jambalaya an inexpensive, Creole-flavored way to feed a group” that is nutritious and easy to make. The recipe, developed by our own Chef Sarah McKay (long-time volunteer for Operation Frontline: Detroit) replaces sausage and white rice for turkey ham and barley, kicking up the fiber content and reducing the fat content. This recipe is a favorite amongst OFL participants and appears in almost all of our classes. Congratulations, Sarah!

                                                                                                                          Barley Jambalaya

Barley Jambalaya
Serves 6


  • 1 cup pearl barley
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 whole bay leaves
  • 2 medium celery stalks
  • 1 medium green bell pepper
  • 3 medium onions
  • 2 medium cloves garlic
  • 4 ounces turkey ham
  • 1 tbsp. canola oil
  • 2 (14.5 oz) cans diced tomatoes, no salt added
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  1. Place barley in a colander and rinse under cold water. Bring water, bay leaves, and barley to a boil in medium saucepan over high heat.
  2. Reduce heat to low, cover saucepan and cook barley until tender and water is absorbed, about 45 minutes. Place barley in a colander, draining any excess water, and set aside.
  3. Rinse celery and green pepper. Peel onions and garlic and rinse onions.
  4. Dice onions, celery, and green pepper and mince garlic.
  5. Dice turkey ham into 1/4-inch pieces.
  6. Add oil to large soup pot and heat over medium-high heat.
  7. Add meat, onions, celery, peppers, and garlic to the soup pot. Mix well.
  8. Saute 5-10 minutes, scraping bottom of pan periodically.
  9. Add tomatoes. Turn heat to high and bring to boil.
  10. Add the 4 spices and stir to combine.
  11. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 15 minutes.
  12. Add cooked barley to the meat and vegetable mixture, stir to combine. Add more liquid if necessary.
  13. Cook over low heat for an additional 5-10 minutes to blend flavors together.
  14. Remove bay leaves before serving.

PER SERVING: Calories 363 (16% fat) Fat 7 g (1 g sat) Chol 20 mg

Sodium 1,466 mg Fiber 13 g Carbohydrates 64 g Protein 16 g


  • If you only have a limited time to make this recipe, you can use Quick Barley instead of pearl barley. Just add the Quick Barley to the pot after adding the canned tomatoes, using the recommended amount of water on the box (taking into account that there is liquid from the canned tomatoes). You can either finish the jambalaya on the stovetop or put it all into a pan to be baked in the oven for 20 minutes.
  • Try ham, chicken, turkey sausage, or shrimp instead of the turkey ham.
  • This recipe does well in the freezer if you have leftovers.

October 22, 2009 at 3:50 pm Leave a comment

Recipe: Stuffed Acorn Squash

This recipe was developed by OFL Chef BJ Williams, who has facilitated three classes, including two Eating Right classes and an Eating Well class. BJ, who specializes in vegan, vegetarian, and living or “raw” food, owns his own catering company called H20 Essence of Life. Through his company, he offers workshops, cooking classes, and retreats for those interested in learning more about a healthier lifestyle. When asked why he began volunteering with OFL, BJ said, “I wanted to learn how to become a better teacher.” After three months of teaching classes, BJ says that he has improved, learning that engaging people and making them involved makes for a better experience. If you are interested in learning more about BJ’s catering company, contact him through email at


Rice-Stuffed Acorn Squash. Photo Credit: Taste of Home

Rice-Stuffed Acorn Squash. Photo Credit: Taste of Home

Stuffed Acorn Squash
Serves 2



  • 1 average acorn squash
  • 1 tsp of cinnamon
  • 1 tsp of nutmeg
  • 2 1/2 Tbs of olive oil

  For Stuffing:

  • 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
  1. Heat oven to 350 degree f.
  2. Take acorn squash, wash it off with soapy water and dry.
  3. Cut in half and take out the seeds and set aside.
  4. Mix together: 1 tsp of cinnamon *, 1 tsp of nutmeg *, and 2 ½ Tbs of olive oil
  5. Mix ingredients together and rub into each half of the squash. 
  6. 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.
  7. Remove squash from oven and set aside.
  8. 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.
  9. Optional:  Place stuffed squash back into the oven and cover for about 15 minutes for flavors to savor more.
  10. 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.

October 16, 2009 at 2:10 pm Leave a comment

'I’m looking for the cheapest meal I can'

A Whopper. Photo credit: Burger King Web site

A Whopper has 670 calories and 40 grams of fat. Photo credit: Burger King Web site

How closely do you read calorie postings at restaurants? There was an interesting article on The New York Times’ Web site about a recent study on New York’s labeling law. According to the study by professors at New York University and Yale, fast food customers ordered slightly more calories than the typical person had before the law  requiring postings at restaurants went into effect last year, the New York Times reported. So even though there was information saying a Whopper had a whopping 670 calories and 40 grams of fat, most likely people went ahead and ordered it anyway.

The study, by professors at New York University and Yale, examined customers at  McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King and Kentucky Fried Chicken in poor NYC neighborhoods where there are high rates of obesity, which is also a huge problem in Detroit. In 2007, Detroit ranked No. 5 on’s America’s Most Obese Cities, with an obesity rate of 30.4 percent.

The researchers studied more than 1,000 customers’ receipts. At a McDonald’s, one customer who was in Harlem for a job interview ordered two cheeseburgers for $2. The total caloric count: 600.  

“It’s just cheap, so I buy it. I’m looking for the cheapest meal I can,” he told the newspaper.

The Times also reported an advocate suggested low-income people were more interested in price than calories.

“Nutrition is not the top concern of low-income people, who are probably the least amenable to calorie labeling,” said Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit health advocacy group in Washington.

In a city like Detroit, there are many areas designated as food deserts, meaning “areas that require residents to travel twice as far or more to reach the closest mainstream grocer than to reach the closest fringe food location,” according to LaSalle Bank study on the topic. So without access to affordable and nutritious food, it’s easy to grab something at McDonald’s. But it’s not the best choice for you.

Teaching participants how to make educated food choices is what we try to do in our classes at Operation Frontline. For example, instructors do a fun exercise called Blubber Burger, which sounds as disgusting as it is. Participants choose a fast food meal, for example the typical burger, fries, shake combo and then calculate how much fat is in it. Then using spoonfuls of shortening, they pile on the equivalent of fat grams onto a hamburger bun. Seeing a bun full of shortening makes you think twice about whether to eat that burger!

October 9, 2009 at 5:12 pm Leave a comment

E. coli: The importance of food safety

As a result of eating a grilled hamburger, Stephanie Smith was struck by E. coli, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down. Photo credit: New York Times

As a result of eating a grilled hamburger, Stephanie Smith was struck by E. coli, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down. Photo credit: New York Times

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.”

Protecting yourself

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.

October 5, 2009 at 8:40 pm Leave a comment

Cooking in Schools

As noted in our post, “Battling Childhood Hunger,” the ability to serve good, healthy meals in schools is compromised by the amount of federal funding provided. When you’re on a $2.70-per-child budget, what is the incentive of providing fresh food?

"The cafeteria at M.S. 137 in Queens, New York, is one of the schools in the city that has a kitchen with the proper equipment and enough trained staff to cook lunches with fresh ingredients." Photo Credit: The New York Times

The New York Times published an article on Tuesday that talks about schools’ inability to cook healthy meals with the equipment they have. Here is an excerpt:

Many advocates for better, healthier school food have begun to believe that the only way to improve what students eat is to stop reheating processed food and start cooking real, fresh food.

But little actual cooking goes on in the nation’s largest public school system, largely because little of it can. Barely half of New York’s 1,385 school kitchens have enough cooking and fire-suppression equipment so cooks can actually sauté, brown or boil over open flame.

Even in those that do, aging ovens sometimes don’t heat properly, equipment is hidden away in storage rooms or broken, and the staff isn’t trained to do much more than steam frozen vegetables, dig ravioli out of a six-pound can or heat frozen chicken patties in a convection oven.

New York is not that unusual. More than 80 percent of the nation’s districts cook fewer than half their entrees from scratch, according to a 2009 survey by the School Nutrition Association.

The slide didn’t happen overnight. As many American families stopped cooking and began to rely on prepared and packaged food, so did the schools. It became cheaper to cut skilled kitchen labor, eliminate raw ingredients and stop maintaining kitchens.

“In school food 30 or 40 years ago, they roasted turkeys and did all of these things,” said Eric Goldstein, the chief executive of the Office of School Support Services.

“We all recognize we want to be scratch cooking again, but we have some challenges to get there.”

You can read the rest of the story here

When we see what kinds of foods students are allowed to eat in school, it’s no wonder that we have an obesity problem amongst children and adolescents. More to be said on that in future posts.

October 2, 2009 at 3:16 pm Leave a comment

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 71 other followers

Cooking Matters Twitter Feed

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.