Kids in the Kitchen

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One delicious perk of having prominent Houston chefs volunteer their time in our Seed-to-Plate ™ culinary classes is the opportunity they provide for students to visit their restaurants and get an insider's tour of some of Houston's favorite, professional kitchens. 

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Last month students from Rodriguez Elementary School got a taste of La Vista, Chef Greg Gordon's chic Galleria bistro serving delicious New American cuisine. Students first got a tour of the kitchen before rolling up their sleeves to make brick oven baked pizzas. The special treatment continued as they dined in La Vista's private dinning room known as the "The Cool People Room." 

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Afterwards, the kids worked the off the pizza with a fun game of kickball at the nearby Tanglewood Park. 

Surely positive kitchen experiences like this one will influence a few future culinary careers!

Frost Fighters

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Well the Old Farmer's Almanac predicted it; this winter was set to be a dousy. "Colder is just almost too familiar a term," Old Farmer's Almanac Editor Janice Stillman said. "Think of it as a refriger-nation." Temperature highs in the 40s may seem to our Northern neighbors like Houston is in the protected crisper section of the fridge; but nonetheless, we are certainly shaking in our boots.

These temperatures can be particularly unfriendly to our Recipe Gardens, as I am sure all you home gardeners can attest. Our students in our Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Program are learning the precautionary measures to take to protect those precious veggie plants they have worked so hard to cultivate. Here are three easy steps they are taking that you can try at home in your own gardens: 

  1. Water well. As the weather gets colder, the air gets drier which leads to soil moisture loss (This goes for us humans too! Stay hydrated, folks). Contrary to what you might expect, wet soil holds heat better than dry soil.
  2. Mulch. Adding dried leaves, hay, or even newspapers around plants conserves water and keeps the soil warm.
  3.  Cover.  The kids call this "blanketing." If frost is in the forecast, you can use frost cloths, newspapers, bed sheets, or old pots to cover plants. Never cover plants with plastic bags. Make sure to remove the next day to prevent scorching from the afternoon sun. 

Winter Watering.jpgGood luck and stay warm! 

Arctic Blast Survival Soup

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January is the time we all swear we'll eat better, and we promise ourselves we'll cook better food for our family, but darn it's cold... and we want something comforting... and warm.

carrotsoup.jpgI adore this Moroccan-inspired carrot soup that truly hits on all fronts. It is warm, satisfying, pretty to look at, healthy... and my kids will even eat it! (Though I admit I don't tell them that it is basically cooked carrots whizzed up in a blender.)

The process is quick and simple and leaves room for innovation, if you're into that kind of thing:

Sweat half of a chopped onion in a little butter. Throw in an array of spices that will have your kitchen smelling like the Kasbah. I love turmeric, as I read recently that it's good for joints, and coriander has the most delicious smell, so I add some of that as well.  A dash of cinnamon finishes it off for me, though some curry powder would be nice, or sometimes I add a little cumin.

Let the spices toast a bit before adding about 12 coarsely chopped carrots and chicken stock to just cover them, bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, cover and 20 minutes later, you're ready for the blender and a soul-inspiring bowl of soup.

I like mine with a dollop of Greek yogurt and toasted nuts, but my kids prefer a giant crouton with melted cheese smack dab in the middle of theirs!

What recipes help YOU walk the line between honoring New Year's Resolutions and keeping warm and toasty? Tell us in the comments!

 

 

Green Garden Gifts

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Hooray, the holiday season is here! Families are gathering, joyful music is playing, kitchens are warm with baking, and of course, people are frantically shopping. Last minute shoppers, don't stress about finding (not to mention affording) the perfect presents for loved ones and take a page from our Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education™ garden classes.

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At MacGregor Elementary, our students collected rosemary, oregano, sage, and bay laurel stems to create aromatic, herb bouquet gifts. Unlike a Christmas tree, this gift is still useful even if it dries out! Whether the recipient likes to cook or not, the bouquet can be used as rustic décor, freshening any room with it's warm woody fragrance.

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If you can only get your hands on rosemary, an herb that is particularly prolific in Texas I've quickly learned, try making rosemary wreaths or ornaments tied together with twine or ribbon. These handmade gifts are fun for kids (and adults!) to make, not to mention affordable and environmentally friendly.

Look outside and let your imagination do the gifting!   

Recipe for Success Foundation also has gifts that give - place your order by noon on December 22  for delivery by Christmas Eve!

 

Let It Go: Monarch Edition

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Recipe for Success takes full advantage of our Recipe Gardens, utilizing their bounty in our culinary classes. However, it's not just students and school staff who love our homegrown harvest. The week before Thanksgiving, students caught countless monarch caterpillars munching away on the Mexican milkweed in our Recipe Garden at MacGregor Elementary. 

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A hard freeze in Houston was in the forecast, and the kids were worried about the future of all these soon-to-be butterflies. Sympathizing with their anguish, I was talked into becoming a foster parent of four caterpillars, which I was informed, was not nearly enough. Evidently, our garden caterpillars faired just fine. When we returned in December, the once very lush milkweeds had not a leaf in sight!

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Over the following weeks, my classes observed these caterpillars turn into chrysalises, from dewy green to black and orange. One reflective Pre-K student commented that the chrysalis was like the butterfly's sleeping bag, a perfectly apt (and adorable!) association for their curious minds to grasp.

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Kindergartener watches a butterfly emerge in its makeshift habitat.

Never before had I held captive chrysalises and I found myself being just as rapt with their life cycle as the kids, particularly when the butterflies emerged! One particular kindergarten class squealed with delight as the emerging drama unfolded before them. A couple hours later, the fifth graders released the butterflies from their netted cage. Shy to start flying at first, they were serenaded by the class singing "Let It Go" and "I Believe I Can Fly" in complete earnest and support of these tiny creatures.

When finally the radiant orange wings took off into the wind, the class erupted in cheers. One student asked, "Can we plant more milkweed?" Absolutely. 

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Benihana to the Rescue!

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RFS Board Member Helen Bow is passionate about healthy eating and exercise.  With one son who's an adventurous eater (Greyson) and one who's a selective eater (Miles), it is always a challenge to please everyone at the dinner table. Often, it requires a little creativity.

teppanyaki.jpgMy 13-year-old son Miles has been selective about what he consumes from the get-go.  When he was old enough to start drinking milk from a cup, he refused to do so.  The kiddo hasn't had a full serving of milk in 12 years.  I'm not kidding.  That includes ice cream.  Yes, that's right.  My son will not even eat ice cream; and yet will opt for sorbet or gelato. To make sure he's getting the nutrients that milk provides, I've learned to compensate, offering him lots of cheese or sneaking milk or cream into mashed potatoes or mac and cheese.

Oddly, Miles loves onions and will eat them raw and cut up like an apple.  I'm always at a loss on what to cook to please the kiddo, to get him to eat healthy foods.  Last weekend, I decided to capitalize on the fact that he loves onions and drew inspiration from a recent trip to Benihana, famous for its teppanyaki-style cuisine.  Miles loves the place and gobbles up the soup, chicken fried rice, shrimp and beef.  So at home, I decided to make him chicken fried rice and included onions, carrots, peas and red and green bell peppers--and he loved it!  I also boiled carrots, onions and green bell peppers, cayenne pepper with soy sauce in organic chicken broth to create my own version of the Benihana soup and he devoured it, veggies and all.

What's more, the leftovers were plentiful so we could enjoy it for a few more days.  Thank you--or arigatou--for the inspiration Benihana!

Have you ever re-created one of your children's favorite dining experiences at home? Tell us in the comments! Or try this healthy stir-fry that uses a surprising technique!

TV Magic with Chef Randy Evans!

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ChefRandyChopsticks.jpgChef Randy demonstrates how to use chopsticks. 

Chefs in Schools™, which matches celebrity chefs as guest instructors for fourth-grade classes, is one of the most exciting aspects of our Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education™ program.   Our volunteer chefs are getting a kick out of putting their own unique stamp on this year's curricular theme: Eat It! Food Adventures with Marco Polo.  Just yesterdayChef Randy Evans took fourth-graders from MacGregor Elementary on a culinary adventure to China. On the menu for the day were Far East Cauliflower Bowls, a revamped version of the ultimate take-out comfort food champion, Chinese fried rice.

Chef Randy showed students how to make "rice" with cauliflower, upping nutrient levels and lowering calories, all while sending the tastiness factor off the charts.  Kids were impressed that with only a few pulses of the food processor this wonder veggie could be transformed into a better version of the grain. 

Since 2006, Chef Randy has volunteered in our classrooms, charming and educating students with restaurant secrets and the finest culinary skills. Thursday was no different, except for one detail: the kids' beloved chef is now a TV star! As Chef Randy led students on the epicurean exploration, he regaled them with stories of his Kitchen Inferno episode "Milk and Cookies: Get Ready to Crumble", which debuted this past week on the Food Network. He even divulged a TV magic secret - it took 8 days to film the one hour episode.  The kids were delighted to get the inside scoop!

Baked Veggie Fritters

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The holiday season means plenty of celebrating centered around sharing favorite food traditions with loved ones. But after the big meal's been eaten and the party fun's been had, you may find yourself drained of inspiration to create but one more inventive meal.

In a kitchen just like yours, in circumstances just like this, is how the veggie fritter was born. At least we assume so since its simple genius is perfect for such an occasion. 

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This month Chef Jon Buchanan of Trevisio baked veggie fritters with Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education™ students at MacGregor Elementary, inspiring him to recreate the dish in technicolor for a family meal with his staff (pictured here).

In Britain, fritters take the form of "bubble and squeak", so called due to the sounds they emit as they sizzle in a hot pan, and take advantage of what remains from Sunday supper. Roasted root vegetables, soft and sweet, are lazily mashed and combined with some egg and flour before being dropped into a pan and refashioned into beautifully irregular savory pancakes. It's exactly the end your holiday meal leftovers dreamed of. And requires the tiniest bit of effort, lucky for you.

Of course, fresh vegetables work swimmingly, as well. Whatever you have on hand, really, no matter the season, just shred, mix with back bone-providing elements, liven with herbs and aromatics, then into the pan they go.

To lighten up this version, we send forgo pan frying and instead send our "fritters" into the oven to finish the transformation from humble ingredients to humble yet satisfying comfort food. While you wait, whip up a tangy, bright sauce that will awaken the whole dish, as well as your house guests.

Baked Veggie Fritters

Ingredients

For the fritters:

1 cup zucchini
1 cup carrot
2 cup potato (russet or sweet), cooked
2 eggs
½ cup whole wheat bread crumbs 
½ cup parsley, chopped
½ cup mint, chopped
½ teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon salt 
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

For the yogurt sauce:

1 cup plan, lowfat yogurt
2 tablespoons yellow mustard (or whichever kind you have will do)
2 tablespoons fresh herbs (such as parsley, dill, mint, cilantro or a mix)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions  

To make the fritters:

  • Preheat oven to 450°. Lightly oil a baking sheet and set aside.
  • Scoop cooked potato out of skin and mash with the back of a fork. 
  • Cut zucchini into small ¼-inch cubes (or grate). Add to bowl with potato.
  • Peel and grate carrots. Add to bowl with potato and zucchini.
  • Crack eggs into a separate bowl.  Whisk with a fork before adding to bowl.
  • Add chopped mint and parsley, bread crumbs, cumin, salt and pepper. Stir to combine.
  • Measure 1 heaping tablespoon of mixture, roll into a ball and place on baking sheet oiled baking sheet. Repeat until all of the mixture is used.
  • Using the bottom of a glass or cup, flatten each ball until about ½-inch thick.
  • Bake at 450° for 6 minutes, flip each fritter and bake another 6 minutes.

To make the sauce: 

  • Peel and mince garlic, chop herbs and combine with yogurt, mustard and lemon juice. Stir to combine.
  • Taste and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Thin with a small amount of water if needed.
  • Serve each fritter with yogurt sauce and enjoy!

Find even more ideas for healthy, delicious recipes for any occasion on our Pinterest boards.

'Tater Takeover!

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Move over Pumpkin Spiced everything, it's sweet potato season! Since school has started, the kiddos in our Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education™ programs have been ripping up verdant vines and submerging their small hands in soil. It's the ultimate treasure hunt, sifting and clawing through the deep unknown of our garden beds, sometimes unearthing a host of interesting living things from "alien" looking moth pupas to red onions from seasons past.  When sweet potatoes are found they are notoriously plump, disfigured giants, delighting the young discoverers. It's no easy feat hoisting batatas like these from such deep depths.

GiantSweetPotato.jpgStudents hold up a monstrous sweet potato harvested from their Recipe Garden at Rodriguez Elementary School. 

After all this hard work, the bellies began to growl. Thanksgiving is right around the corner and so many kids have marshmallows and mashed sweet potatoes on the brain. But here at Recipe for Success, we are digging deeper with our recipes.

In our showcase culinary classrooms we motivate kids to step away from the candied nuts and sticky melted 'mallows by instead making a flavorful Turkish dish called Sebze Müscveri, or Baked Veggie Fritters, as part of our Marco Polo curriculum, adapted from the Eat It! Food Adventures with Marco Polo cookbook by RFS Founder, Gracie Cavnar. Traditionally made with russet potatoes, we utlized our harvest bounty to boost the vitamin punch. To balance its sweetness, the kids made a yogurt-garlic sauce to drizzle on top and then added a garnish of garden fresh radish slices for extra crunch. YUM!

Let us know how you are healthily enjoying the sweet side of this season's best ingredient!

10 Tips for Healthy Holidays

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2014 has been a fun and crazy year.  We can hardly believe we are already heading into the holiday season. It seems like we were just putting out Easter eggs. Still, we need to face the inevitable; the holidays are upon us. Facing this realization also means dealing with the dinners, parties and gift baskets of food. Thanksgiving alone can put you in a food coma through the next holiday.

With holiday cards to write, presents to buy and parties to attend, we all need to remember to try to eat healthy during the holidays or face the sluggish effects of our bad choices. I'm not kidding. Last year, I dove into the candy dish at a holiday party and just woke up to write this post.

ElvesPie.jpgSo, to learn from my mistakes, I've compiled this list:

10 Healthy Eating Tips to Survive the Holidays

  1. Trim Back The Trimmings - Unlike a Holiday Tree, you don't need to trim out your plate with everything. A little discretion here can save you pounds of guilt later. Avoid empty calories in cookies, chocolates and processed foods. 
  2. Don't Be A Scrooge - At the same time, don't be afraid to indulge in your sweet treat, be it fruit, nuts or even a chocolate truffle, if that's your thing. Moderation is key. Food, like life, is meant to be enjoyed, especially around the holidays. Just remember that gluttony will not look pretty come summer.
  3. Be A Food Snob - It's the one time it's okay to be a snob at a party.  If you don't love it, don't try it. Only fill your plate with food you love. If you don't see anything you like, grab a glass and raise a toast to your host. You don't need to bend your elbows at the buffet.
  4. Fuel Up For The Festivities - Just like you don't go to the grocery store hungry, don't go to a holiday party that way. You'll find yourself better able to resist temptation if you aren't imagining the other guests as a crunchy treat.
  5. Be Merry, Drink Then Eat - Before you head for the food, grab a drink, circle the room and mingle. You may find you won't even end up at the food trough.
  6. Step Away From The Chocolates - If sweets are your trigger, then don't stand next to them. Out of sight, out of mind has been a winning mantra for years. If it's in front of you and you can reach it, you'll be eating it. Treat those sweets like an ex that owes you money. You don't even want to see it!
  7. Walk Don't Skip - If you over-indulge in one meal, up your daily exercise and/or lessen the next, don't skip meals. Surviving the holidays is about making healthy choices. Don't fall into unhealthy practices. 
  8. It Isn't All About The Cookies - There are lots of fun activities we can do with the family that don't involve baking cookies and pies. You can make wreaths and cards, but if you are going to make cookies, then check out some of our healthy recipes.
  9. Fill Your Home With Good Goodies - Instead of having bowls of sugary treats out on display for the family and guests, keep healthy, nutritious alternatives around. Eating several meals a day can be healthy provided the options are healthy.
  10. Enjoy What You're Eating - Nutritious food is meant to be shared, appreciated and celebrated. Savor it and enjoy the experience. Don't cram it down in between anecdotes. Treat your standing cocktail party the way you would a lovely sit down. Don't rush, stop to enjoy, savor and celebrate.

Have more tips to add to the list? Share them below!

Michael Pearce is one half of the amazing duo completed by husband Matt Burrus. They round out their happy home with daughter, Estelle, age three, and newest addition, baby Winston. Michael and Matt share more of their adventures in parenting over at the Gayby Boom blog.

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