Friday, February 29, 2008

This Just In: Life Chef Class Tomorrow!

Marketing is not my forte. If it were, you'd know about things I do well in advance and not the day before. Here's a prime example:

Tomorrow I'll be at St. Philip AME Church which is technically in Atlanta, although I'm not sure who drew that city boundary because everything else around the church is in Decatur for those who will Mapquest it, but I digress...

It's a big, wonderfully active church and Dr. Hogan who heads the Health Ministry has invited me to teach a Life Chef class on March 1 to kick off National Nutrition Month. I'm honored to offer Life Chef Healthy Cooking 101 and we'll focus on a few fat-free cooking methods such as simmering, steam-saute, and baking to prepare a menu which will include:

* Curried Chickpeas with Tomatoes & Spinach in a Coconut Broth
* Lemon & Garlic Kale
* Roasted Chicken & Melted Tomato Bruchetta
* Pound Cake with Strawberry Compote and Oat Crisp

There is a small fee for the class which will be from 10 a.m. to just about noon. For more information please contact the church at 404.371.0749.

If you miss this class, there will be following classes in April and May at St. Philip AME and I promise to be better about forward notice!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

All Natural Turkey Hot Dogs? Thanks Garrett County!

One thing about being a kid in America is that hot dogs will inevitably be one of your first forays into processed meat. People LOVE feeding kids hot dogs, even if parents tape a "DO NOT FEED MY KID PROCESSED MEAT" bumper sticker to the young'ns foreheads. I think it's some vicarious pleasure: "Let's feed the kids stuff we can't eat because it would kill us, because they have their whole lives ahead of them." I dunno. Anyway...

I just stumbled upon these all natural, gluten-free turkey franks recently at the DeKalb Farmers Market. We'd gone on a hot dog strike because our two-year-old had pretty much decided all he wanted to eat were hot dogs. And even though I bought the best kosher beef franks I could find, the reality is that the beef raising and processing for that meat product isn't all that different from the generic product, and the hot dogs were still preserved with added nitrates and nitrites. A little food research showed that kosher beef dogs maybe be a little better than the generic hot dog will less additives and preservatives, but not much by from a nutrition standpoint. And hey, processed meat is processed meat, right? Not the kind of thing that should be the foundation of anyone's daily diet.

So for a while hot dogs were out, if only to break the seeming addiction our kid had developed. Then we came across these Garrett County turkey franks which claim to be all natural uncured turkey from birds that are free from antibiotics and made with no added nitrates or nitrites. Their label reads "No antibiotics...ever! No artificial ingredients. Minimally processed. No preservatives..." And the turkeys are fed a vegetarian diet. Well, we HAD to give that a try, and my first response on opening the packages was "Hey honey, come smell these hot dogs. They smell like... food!"

That sums up my Garrett County hot dog experience in one word: food. The ingredients list is short and instantly recognizable as food: Turkey, Water, Salt, Spices, Paprika, Raw Sugar, Garlic Powder, Onion Powder. They smell like food. They taste like food. My son's garlic-laden dragon breath is proof that he's eaten food. Barring his relapse as a hot dog junkie, this food will be the new standard of hot dog around here.

Apparently Wellshire Farms is the more familiar moniker behind the newly renamed producer of natural meat products that now goes by Garrett County. I learned that from this link blog by the Between Two Rivers Coop.

I wanted to post this food find for other parents of young children, or simply hotdog lovers in search of a more natural alternative.

Curried Chick Peas with Spinach

This super easy dish went over big recently at the Health Fair at the Hillcrest Church of Christ in Decatur where I held an hour long cooking demo and presentation: "Superfoods (and how to use them!)". Besides the ease with which it comes together, the other great thing about this quick cooking recipe is that most of the ingredients are staples from the pantry, fridge or freezer. Even though fresh ingredients could certainly be used, sometimes in our "real" life we don't have time to do much more than rummage through the cupboard in search of the answer to the What's for Dinner question.

The amounts listed here are probably double what I would use to make at home because I was trying to make enough to give out plenty to sample. I thought I'd post this version of the recipe because it's a great potluck dish and this amount will give you lots to share:

2 cans chickpeas, drained & rinsed
3 cloves garlic, diced
1 medium onion, diced
2 tablespoons red curry paste (Indian variety such as Patak's)
1 can coconut milk
1 can diced tomatoes, drained
1 cup frozen spinach
1 cup water

This dish, when served with some fragrant basmati rice or earthy brown rice, is a complete vegetarian meal. It's also simple to modify so that you can use other vegetables like adding carrots instead of tomatoes, or fresh spinach in stead of frozen.

You can also omit the coconut milk altogether, reserve the liquid from the tomatoes instead of draining them, and increase the water used or substitute vegetable or chicken stock. Frozen crowder peas and frozen chopped turnip greens also do well in this dish if you choose to omit the coconut milk and reserve instead the liquid from the tomatoes.

So you can see you can experiment with this basic premise.

To make it at home I'd simply halve all of the ingredients, which I've done below. In my home recipe I also spice it up slightly by adding freshly ground ginger and a pinch of red pepper flake, then I serve it with fresh cilantro and a lime wedge with each serving.


Curried Chick Peas with Spinach

1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 cloves of garlic, diced
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 tablespoon red curry paste (Indian variety such as Patak's)
1/2 can coconut milk
1/2 can diced tomatoes, drained
1/2 cup frozen spinach
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1 pinch crushed chili flake

Cooked rice for serving and cilantro and lime wedges for garnish

In a saucepan, heat one tablespoon of oil with onion, garlic and curry paste over medium-low heat until aromatic.
Add chickpeas, coconut milk, ginger, chili flake, water and tomatoes and stir to incorporate ingredients. Simmer on medium to medium-high heat for at least ten minutes to allow the peas to absorb some of the flavor.
Stir in frozen spinach and cook another five minutes, stirring so that the spinach heats thoroughly.
At this point the dish can be served or cooled and refrigerated until ready to serve another day.
When reheating gently over medium heat, the dish a little additional liquid may be needed if it appears to be too thick because coconut milk does tend to thicken as it reduces during cooking for long periods of time.
Serve with cooked rice, a few sprigs of cilantro and freshly cut lime wedges for squeezing over the dish.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Fit for a ... Teen!

Last Tuesday I had the honor of participating in the Lovejoy High School Health Fair as an exhibitor. Days before the health fair I learned that nearly 2,100 students were expected and I was perplexed as to what food to prepare because not only can teens be picky eaters, but I wanted to do something even someone with NO cooking skills could prepare that was healthy and tasty. And with 2,100 mouths to feed and only my two hands to work with, I was at a loss.

Then in the wee hours of the morning inspirations struck. SMOOTHIES! Who doesn't love smoothies? Anyone can operate a blender. Using frozen fruit means there's no cutting involved. What better way to put a bunch of healthful and nutritious ingredients together? And you won't even need a spoon to eat it.

The response was overwhelming! I couldn't make smoothies fast enough. What was really encouraging was the positive response from the young men, because many of them were leery of smoothies, thinking of it as "girly food." I guess berries, yogurt and fruit juice could sound kind of "girly" but I was also encouraged by the number of young people who may have been skepticle of something new, but stepped up to the plate and tried it anyway. I'd say 9 out of 10 liked the smoothies and I hope those who took the recipe home will try to make them again.

This recipe is great because it's SO simple and you can switch up the types of fruit you use, the flavor of juice and yogurt and continue to create new flavors! I used frozen fruit because it eliminates the need for ice, which can make for more of a slushy than a smoothie, but almost any fruit -- fresh or frozen -- you like will do: bananas*, grapes, berries, mango, peaches. Fruit lends fiber, vitamins and antioxidants to the smoothie.

When you make smoothies, experiment with different juices like mango, strawberry, apple and cranberry. Fruit juice adds enough liquid to get the ingredients incorporated, a touch of sweetness, and in most cases more vitamin C. Also, use whatever flavor of low fat or non fat yogurt you like. I used the ubiquitous vanilla, but any flavor will do. The addition of yogurt gives the smoothies calcium and protein without adding fat. If you like some additional sweetness, try using bananas* and pineapple juice, or drizzle in some honey or a touch of agave nectar, or sprinkle turbinado sugar on tope if you have it on hand.

Lots of adults enjoy smoothies, but they're perfect for teens (See Note to Teens at the end) because smooties are easy to make, and are a great snack or a fast and portable breakfast. They are also a good source of nutrients as part of a 2,000 calorie a day diet. So break out your blender and make some smoothies today!

A special thanks goes out to Carol Hunter and the Lovejoy High School PTSA!

Life Chef's Berry Yogurt Smoothie
1 cup frozen mixed berries
1 cup fat free vanilla yogurt
1/3 cup pineapple juice

Combine ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Divide between two glasses and enjoy!

*Note: Adding bananas and certain other fruits will make for a thicker smoothie and you may need to add more juice to thin it out in order for the ingredients to blend properly.

Note to Teens: Before you sit down to enjoy your smoothie, or grab it and run out of the door, make sure you clean up behind yourself and RINSE OUT THE BLENDER CANISTER (or possibly leave the canister soaking with water in it) because it will make clean up a snap later on and it will keep Mom or Dad from forbidding you to ever use the blender again.

Saturday, February 9, 2008


Hey guys!

I know it's been a minute since I updated this site but bear with me. We had technical difficulties and survived a "communications package upgrade" and somehow my computer and my camera have stopped talking to each other so once all of this gets worked out you will see much more from Life Chef's Food for Life. I have LOT to share with you and down here in Georgia, spring is right around the corner. A VERY exciting time for food lovers.

In the mean time check me out at any of these upcoming events (been a busy girl on the speaking circuit!).

Feb. 12 at Lovejoy High School in Hampton presenting Healthy Eating Habits for Teens: Portion and Proportion

Feb. 16 at Hillcrest Church of Christ's Third Annual Health Fair in Decatur presenting Superfoods (and How to Use Them!)

March 18 at Clayton County Govt. HQ in Jonesboro presenting a Healthy Food Tasting for Kaiser Permanente

OK stay tuned and I'll be back with more delicious Food for Life!

Yours in health and good taste,
Asata Reid, Life Chef