Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Part II: Iron Chef, the kid's edition

Last week, I attended the second half of the Boulder Valley School District's Iron Chef competition for kids. This time around, the competitors were middle schoolers, grade 6-8. Definitely more skills here - very serious kitchen skills!

The rules are:
  • cook up a lunch meal that comes in under $1.20 per student
  • must include a serving of milk, fruit, veggies, whole grain, and protein
  • all the ingredients have to be available to the district's food service
  • do it in 90 minutes
Judging categories include adherence to the rules, as well as appearance, flavor, and proper sanitation. The judging was done by the district chefs, two elementary school students, two middle school students, and 3 community judges including Bradford Heap who owns two restaurants in the area and is a self-described Ann Cooper fan.

Ann Cooper is a huge champion of getting real food into school lunches and we in Boulder are lucky to have her running the district's food service operations. She is a supporter of the Food Revolution and is working hard to change what school children are fed through numerous organizations such as the The Lunch Box and Food Family Farming Foundation, Salad Bars to Schools, and Lunch Lessons. She is one busy lady!

Four teams competed, representing three schools:

The Crazy Cajuns from Centennial Middle School prepared Mexican Street Tacos filled with chicken and some fresh pico de gallo. This was served with Mexican rice and sensational lime-zest flavored black beans.

The Flaming Lemons, also of Centennial Middle School, served a Pesto Turkey Panini filled with sautéed red peppers and mozzarella cheese and a colorful fruit salad on the side.

The Monarch Mustangs showed some fancy plating skills with their Rubik's cube of watermelon and pineapple served with a Philly-style cheesesteak hoagie and "Quickles," their version of quickie pickles. They gave me the recipe for the Quickles, which they said I could share with you. Quite tasty!

Finally, Aspen Creek's Blue Striped Pineapples made a chicken gyro open-faced sandwich served with a Tzatski sauce and Greek salad. Fresh and tasty and showing off some very nice knife skills.

And the winner, for the second year in a row, was the Crazy Cajuns.

The Crazy Cajuns accepting their certificates and a check for Centennial's PTA from Ann Cooper
Each and every participant did a great job. Their food looked and tasted great. Congratulations, awesome young chefs!

(from the Monarch Mustangs of Louisville, Colorado)

These are great with sandwiches, particularly cheesesteak!

½ cup rice wine vinegar
2 Tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 pinch kosher salt
1 pinch black pepper
2 large cucumbers, peeled and cut into ⅛" slices

In a bowl, whisk together the vinegar, honey, soy sauce, salt, and pepper until combined. Add the sliced cucumbers and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Overnight is even better, they say.  I tried them after about 1 hour and they were delicious.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Meatless Monday: Ligurian Pasta and Beans

I selected this recipe because it is rather unusual. It's not often that you see potatoes, beans, and pasta combined in one dish. Three starchy things that have different textures making for a rustic, hearty dish. This heavy-on-the-carbs combination is popular in Liguria, where they serve pasta with potatoes and pesto. Liguria includes Genoa, home of pesto, as well as Cinque Terre, five lovely towns that hug the coast. It's known for delicious olive oil and a generous hand with many fresh herbs.

This dish also exemplifies much that is beautiful in Italian cuisine. Simple preparation and high quality ingredients make a flavorful dish. Don't substitute dried parsley or rosemary because you need the brightness of the fresh herbs. Though a small bunch of rosemary will run you about $3, don't forget that you can freeze most of it, ready for the next recipe that uses rosemary.

You'll need to plan ahead for this recipe because you must soak the beans before cooking them. You can shorten the soaking by using the quick soak method: bring the beans and water to a boil and boil for 3 minutes (4 minutes if you live at a higher altitude like I do). Turn off the heat, cover, and let sit for 1 hour. The beans will be ready for cooking.

Ligurian Pasta and Cannellini Beans
(serves 4-6, costs $6.50)

1 cup dry cannellini or Great Northern beans
¼ cup olive oil
1 large red onion (about 8 oz.), chopped
1 large pinch crushed red pepper flakes
4 cups vegetable broth
2 medium boiling potatoes (such as Yukon Gold or Red), peeled and diced
8 ounces lasagna noodles, broken into about 1" pieces
1 large clove garlic, minced
8 large sprigs fresh parsley, leaves only, chopped
1 5" sprig fresh rosemary, leaves stripped off the stem and chopped
1 pinch of dried marjoram, crushed
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 oz.)
1 teaspoon salt + more for salting pasta water
½ teaspoon black pepper

Soak the beans in 4 cups cold water for at least 8 hours. Drain and rinse the beans and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onion and crushed red pepper flakes. Saute, stirring, for 3 minutes until onions are translucent. Add the soaked beans and the vegetable broth. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the beans are just tender. Add the potatoes and cook for another 15 minutes. At this point, the beans and potatoes should be completely cooked. Remove from the heat and set aside while you cook the pasta.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta pieces, stirring every now and then to keep them from sticking together. Cook for 10-12 minutes until the pasta is al dente - just tender. Drain the pasta and add to the beans. Stir in the garlic, parsley, rosemary, marjoram, cheese, salt, and pepper. Cover and let sit for 15 minutes. Check salt; depending on the saltiness of the broth, you may need more.

(Adapted from Fagioli by Judith Barrett, Rodale 2004.)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

It's cabbage time...

But, only for a very short time. Every year just before St. Patrick's Day, cabbage goes on sale for unbelievably low prices. The lowest price I've seen is 19¢, for organic cabbage no less!

Like Brussels sprouts, cabbage gets a bad rap. If you cook it to death, it can exude eau du stinky vegetable. Fortunately, there are lots and lots of ways to cook cabbage that are  delicious and not stinky.

This hot salad recipe - really a stir fry - is not Irish. Unfortunately, the Irish have a habit of cooking their cabbage until dead, dead, dead. This recipe comes from Southeast Asia. It's fresh. It's light. It's very spicy (you can reduce the chile if you don't like spicy). Like Southeast Asia, about as far away from Ireland as you can get.

[Just for the record, I'll be eating corned beef and long-cooked cabbage this weekend because I like cabbage that much.]

Hot and Sour Cabbage
(serves 6, costs $1.10)

1 pound of cabbage, (about ¼ of a medium head), shredded
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
½ - 1 teaspoon Siracha sauce or Sambal Oelek (fresh ground chile paste)
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
2 Tablespoons rice vinegar
½ teaspoon sesame oil

Heat a large skillet or wok over high heat. Add oil and swirl around pan. Add chile sauce. Careful! It will spit and spatter. Immediately, add cabbage. Stir fry for about 1 minute. Add brown sugar and salt. Stir fry for another minute. Add soy sauce, rice vinegar, and sesame oil, toss to mix, and serve.

Adapted from Healthy Salads From Southeast Asia by Vatcharin Bhumichitr

Part I: Iron Chef, the kid's edition

The winning entry from Fireside Elementary: Sweet and Sour Chicken 
Last week, my local school district held their Elementary School Iron Chef competition. I attended as the Boulder, Colorado Ambassador for the Food Revolution. The Food Revolution promotes food education (the primary mission of School of Eating Good) but also works in the community to improve school lunch. This competition hits both: the competitors learn a lot about cooking and real food AND the winning team's lunch dish gets put on the district's menu for the next academic year. How cool is that?

The competitors are all students in kindergarten through 5th grade. And they have a tall task: to come up with a lunch meal that meets the USDA nutrition guidelines for school lunches, that comes in under $1.20 a serving (more on this in a second), and it needs to taste great! The students also get points for proper sanitation and presentation. It may seem like $1.20 is a generous sum of money for a kid's lunch. But, 25¢ goes for a serving of milk and another 25¢ goes for a serving of fruit, leaving only 70¢ for the rest - a vegetable serving, a serving of a whole grain, and a protein serving. Now, that is not easy, my friends!

They are further restricted because they have to use only ingredients available to the district for food service. They don't all have to use the same "secret ingredient" like in the TV show but the time limitation is the same. The teams have an hour to do all their prep, cooking, and plating of 1 lunch plate. They did an awesome job, each and every team.

They are judged by the district managers in food service who are the chefs who run the food service for the Boulder Valley schools every school day (Deb Trevor, Sarah Acker, Eric Ditzler, Brandy Dreibelbis, and Sal Manzo), sponsors of the Iron Chef Competition, and a team of 3rd-5th graders. The student judges were totally into this. They took notes, they tried all the food, and they were so intense.

Though I didn't get to taste the food, I can tell you that it smelled incredible.

The winning entry from Fireside was Sweet and Sour Chicken with a side of roasted green peppers. Some fancy plating for their brown rice - they used a small funnel to shape it into a cone.

The other entries were (clockwise from the top left):

  • Sacred Heart's Ground Beef Goulash, showing some nifty plating skills
  • Fireside's Black Bean Soup. Secret ingredient: salsa!
  • Horizons K8's Chicken Gyros, flavored with lemon juice, garlic and oregano
  • Creekside's Lentil-Vegetable Sliders with Lime Coleslaw

That's some pretty nice looking school food. Congratulations to all the students who competed. Impressive young chefs, all of them!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Meatless Monday Fried Rice. Or Maybe Not Meatless. You Decide.

Basic Vegetarian Fried Rice

Our last class of the academic year is coming up on Tuesday. We are doing home interpretations of take-out Chinese. Two of the recipes have already appeared on the blog: Chinese-Style Minced Meat Lettuce Wraps and Mu Shu Tofu.

The third recipe is an old stand-by: Fried Rice. It's a great way to use up leftover rice, either rice you made at home or extra from your last take-out buy. It's important to use cold rice. Freshly made rice is too sticky and the rice will clump together.

This can be vegetarian if you like. Or not. Another great way to use up some diced cooked chicken, thawed teeny cocktail shrimp or some leftover pork. Fried rice is a recipe that can take a lot of improvisation.

The fried rice at some Chinese restaurants is quite dark, suggesting they use a lot of soy sauce to flavor it up. This isn't true. The color comes from a browning agent like Kitchen Bouquet or Chinese Brown Gravy Sauce. In this recipe, we add a small bit of soy sauce for seasoning and then use table salt to add the salt, so the rice isn't very brown.

But speaking of brown rice, you can use cooked cold brown rice in place of white rice. Delicious change of pace.

"Make it Your Way" Fried Rice
(serves 4 as an entree, 8 as a side dish, costs $1.60 with 4 eggs, no optional ingredients)

If serving this as an entree, use 4 eggs. If serving as a side dish, use 2.

3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 - 4 eggs, lightly beaten
¼ cup diced cooked chicken, shrimp, or pork (optional)
4 cups cold cooked rice
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon curry powder (optional)
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup thawed frozen peas (optional)
2 scallions, minced

Heat 2 Tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add the eggs and scramble. Remove the scrambled eggs to a clean bowl. Add remaining tablespoon oil and add meat, if using. Reduce heat to medium, add rice, and stir fry until rice is soft and heated through. Add scrambled eggs, soy sauce, curry powder (if using), and salt. Toss to mix well. Add peas and scallions, give it one last toss, and serve.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Making the most out of your lemons and limes

Lemons and limes are sensational flavor enhancers. The zest boosts the flavor without all the tartness of the juice. The juice adds a punch of acidity which complements many foods, particularly rich things.

To select the juiciest lemon or lime, pick fruit that is heavy for its size. Heavy means juicy. If a lemon is large and light, it is not going to have much juice, no matter what you do to it. Which brings us to microwaving it for a few seconds to get more juice. This does soften up the fruit, making it easier to squeeze out the juice that is in there but it doesn't increase the amount of juice that is in the lemon or lime.

Sometimes, you don't need both the zest and the juice at the same time. That means, you are tossing out flavor. Zested citrus will keep a good while in the fridge but they tend to dry out or even grow mold. Once you squeeze a lemon or lime for juice, you aren't getting the zest off!

It makes sense to get all the good parts and save them for another recipe. When you buy a lemon or lime, zest it even if you don't need the zest (you can find tools and tips on zesting here and here). You can freeze it in a baggie and use it the next time you have a recipe that calls for zest. (The tricky part is putting them somewhere in your freezer where you can remember you have them.) After you zest, squeeze out the juice and freeze that if you don't need it immediately. As you can see in the picture, I like to freeze the juice in convenient 1 fruit portions.

Here are some recipes we have posted in the past that use the flavor of lemons and limes:

Chicken Gyro-Style

Moroccan Carrot Salad

Buttermilk Lemon Salad Dressing

Roasted Cauliflower with Lemon and Mustard

Moroccan Couscous Salad

Pad Thai

Pasta with Greens and Garbanzos

Monday, March 4, 2013

Meatless Monday: Roasted Veggie Frittata

We did a class on eggs back in the fall. You can see the other frittata recipes we did here on the blog: Broccoli Frittata and Pasta Frittata.

Frittata is the lazy gal's (or guy's) omelet. This recipe is inspired by one from Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa. I love many of her recipes, but she's not exactly the queen of low maintenance cooking, nor budget cooking, for that manner. I took her roasted vegetable frittata and simplified/budgetized it a bit. Still a great frittata, now accessible to everyone with a 10" oven-proof skillet.

Though we use roasted cauliflower, red peppers, and red onions, nearly any roasted veggie that you have lying about your fridge will work here. You'll need about 4 cups of roasted vegetables. You can use most any cheese you have: swiss, mozzarella, jack, cheddar, even goat cheese. It's a great way to use up leftovers. One key to getting the most out of your food budget is don't waste stuff!

Roasted Veggie Frittata
(serves 4-6, costs $6.30)

1 pound cauliflower, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut into large dice
½ red onion, peeled and cut into large dice
4 Tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
¾ teaspoon salt or seasoned salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
8 large eggs
¼ cup milk or half & half
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh basil or 4 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (optional)
4 oz. shredded cheese

Preheat oven to 375°F. Mix together cauliflower, red pepper, and red onion in a large bowl. Drizzle on 2 Tablespoons oil, sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Toss then spread out on a large baking sheet. Roast for 25 minutes until cauliflower is tender. Remove from oven and set aside. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F.

In the large bowl you used to toss the veggies, beat together the remaining ½ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon pepper, eggs, milk, and herbs, if using.

Heat a 10" oven-proof skillet over medium heat. Add remaining 2 Tablespoons oil. Add in roasted veggies. Pour the eggs over the veggies. Put the pan in the oven and bake for 20 minutes until frittata is just set in the middle. Sprinkle on cheese. Return pan to the oven and bake another 5 minutes, until cheese is melted.

Frittata can be served hot or at room temperature.