Marcus Samuelsson and Uncle Ben’s (Beginners) Get Kids Cooking!

at red roosterLast month I had the pleasure of dining at one of the best restaurants in NYC: Red Rooster Harlem.  Yes, the food is wonderful, but really it’s not just about the food – it’s about the incredible sense of community and care that fills the space that makes it so special.  After meeting Marcus Samuelsson, and having him give us a tour where he pointed out all of the thoughtful features that went into building Red Rooster it was easy to see why the restaurant exudes warmth and an authentic identity.  From the art that features local customers, to the books that reflect the history of Harlem, food, music and culture, to the artists they feature in the space – you know that there are conscious, purposeful choices put into the restaurant.

That thoughtfulness extends to the food and work of Marcus Samuelsson, who has teamed up with Uncle Ben’s Rice to get kids and families cooking together.

The campaign, Ben’s Beginners Cooking Contest asks families to create a cooking video together and show how cooking can bring you together – and teach kids better food habits.  You could win $15,000 for your family – and $30,000 for a cafeteria makeover for your school!

When you talk to chefs they usually point to a family member as the reason they got into cooking – a grandmother, an uncle or aunt, their mom.  Cooking in the home is one of the most fundamental experiences we can share with our kids – it doesn’t have to be a big deal – it’s actually better if it isn’t.  Unfortunately, I think we spend more time watching impossibly hard cooking shows that have nothing to do with real life cooking – and less time actually chopping, peeling, and turning on a stove to make a simple dinner with our kids.

Marcus spent a lot of time with my daughters and niece at the lunch – asking them all about their school lunch program, what they’d like to see in school lunch, what the kids actually eat – and about the conditions of the lunch room and the experience of lunch time at school (hot, rushed, and overcrowded – all while being yelled at by cafeteria aides).

Marcus Samuelson

It was really interesting to me that he partnered with Uncle Ben’s, but I totally understood it when you looked at this program that was trying to get families to not just cook together, but celebrate it too.  And if using quick rice can make it easier to create that dinner, and get it on the table faster, then I’m all for it.

At Red Rooster they started with the brown Uncle Ben’s Rice, added lobster stock, herbs and spices and created their dirty rice:

It was delish.  Along with the rest of the meal of shrimp, jerk chicken, kale salad and cornbread.  Plus they made Shirley Temples for my girls.  They felt very swanky.

If you’re in NYC be sure to go to Red Rooster for a really special meal.  (We also picked up cupcakes for our Rosh Hashanah dinner that night.  And they were amazing)

So, grab your kids, and get cooking together today.  You can shoot the video on your smartphone – nothing fancy.  Just like you can make some simple pasta, nothing fancy, but at least you’re doing it together, and showing your kids that cooking is not a big deal – it’s something you do to take care of yourself and the people you love, in the most basic way.  And then enter the Uncle Ben’s Beginners Contest – you could even end up on Rachel Ray!  But hurry!  The contest ends October 6th!

 

Nesting for Baby – 2 weeks to go

This is a guest post by Jess Levey as part of Maternity Mondays.

We are now at 38 weeks, and as Braxton Hicks contractions (or ‘practice labor surges’ as we say in hypnobirthing) appear as quickly as they dissipate, the reality has definitely set in, that yes, we will soon be experiencing a life changing event, probably the most altering life event that we have yet encountered and may ever encounter. And, like any great adventure there is that amazing excitement and fear of the unknown that I have learned to embrace while trying as much as possible to control what’s to come, as futile an attempt that may be. We all do it- we try our hardest to control parts of our lives that we know are uncontrollable, and as much as I have prepared mentally and physically for labor, I know deep down that most of what will transpire is really out of my hands.

I can practice my hypnobirthing meditations every night, do my squats, begrudgingly do perineal massages, walk and walk and walk, insert and ingest primrose oil, eat my greens and omega 3s, talk to baby, stay positive, drink my pregnancy tea, and visualize the ‘perfect’ birthing experience, but in the end, something major or minor can occur and I can end up with an emergency C-section, or maybe I won’t be able to breast feed, or maybe our baby will be jaundice for a few days. As much as we can try to prepare and control what is to come, I know deep down that placing too much attachment on this ideal labor is dangerous.

That said, my husband and I have been greatly enjoying nesting and preparing as much as we can. If we can’t fully control the birthing experience, we may as well control what will happen when baby comes home. After my ridiculously fun baby shower a couple of weeks ago, we had to find room in our tiny one bedroom apartment for all the baby goodies- a task which has been quite an overwhelming challenge. The more stuff we get, the more anxious I seem to get. But, with subtle furniture re-arrangements I am hoping we can make it work. The most satisfying preparation we have done thus far is cooking home-made meals and freezing them so that we have yummy food to just heat up and enjoy during those sleepless first few weeks (or is it months?). So far we have made butternut squash soup, meatloaf, chili, lentil stew, sweet potato Quiche, broccoli Quiche, and currently my husband is cooking up a shepherd’s pie and some kugel.

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If there is one thing that Jewish people do when they are anxious, it’s eat, and in our case, it is cooking that has given us this wonderful sense of control and ease, and a feeling that we will be well taken care of when we bring baby home- not just by our close family and friends, but also by ourselves. My mother keeps telling me how much help we will need when the baby arrives. I keep trying to remind her that we are only having one baby (while my sister had the great challenge of two at the same time), that it’s not THAT hard, and that in case she forgot, my husband is actually a domestic maven who works from home, so there are two of us here supporting each other, doing the laundry, cooking, and cleaning together. While we are constantly in sync organizing and cooking and cleaning, I am reminded how lucky I am to be in this situation and it just boggles my mind how women have been doing this alone for so many years. Every time I go to do the dishes with my aching back, my husband looks over and says “you want me to finish that up?” And, as much as I want to continue to praise him for his ‘modern ways’ I also believe that this is really how it should be- we are in this together, preparing for what’s to come, even if I am the only one pushing through the pain.

And, with that, I wish you all a very HAPPY NEW YEAR full of adventurous unknowns…20121231-094739.jpg

 

Cooking with Marco Canora – Now That’s a Tupperware Party!

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This is a guest post by the fabulous Shari Brooks of MyJudytheFoodie.com.  Be sure to check out her site for recipes, musings and wonderful reflections on following in her mother’s culinary  footsteps. (And it’s a good thing she went in my place because I couldn’t have stayed and watched rabbit being prepped and cooked.  But, I do love Tupperware!)

Last week Tupperware and renowned chef Marco Canora hosted a private Tupperware product and cooking demonstration in the newly renovated Tasting Table Test Kitchen in Soho. I not only got a sneak peek at the latest sleek line of Tupperware products but, had the rare opportunity to get up-close-and-personal to watch Chef Marco recreate some of his celebrated soulful dishes.

The unique event, very appropriately titled, Cooking with Confidence, echoed so many of the approaches and attitudes that I have just begun to embrace in my kitchen.  Primarily, that cooking food at home every day doesn’t have to be laden with stress. And, that fancy equipment and utensils aren’t what’s required to cook great meals.  It’s about having the right essential tools and the courage to experiment that eventually allows us to gain cooking confidence and to feel comfortable and excel in our own kitchens!

As I walked into the chic room, I couldn’t believe my eyes.  Gorgeous, yet practical, Tupperware items were displayed on the shelves.  Glasses and pitchers with sleek vibrant colors lined the tables alongside a new line of easy-to-use cooking products. It’s a complete departure from those tried and true milky white plastic containers synonymous with the iconic Tupperware brand!  Even this past weekend, when I was home for the holidays, my mom’s kitchen cabinets are still bursting with myriad Tupperware relics from the 1970’s and 80’s – it’s as if they’ve been frozen in time since the house was full of young kids and home-cooked meals (30 years ago.)

Chef Marco admitted he was a little skittish doing a “Tupperware Party.”  He was worried the products weren’t going to work, like a lot of those “gimmicks” we see on late night TV.   But, after putting the new Tupperware line of pots and knives and appliances to the test, he not only uses them in his own kitchen, but also in his restaurants.   And, selfishly, these products are practical.  They’re small enough to store in any cupboard, drawer, or pantry of any New York City apartment.

With Chef Marco as our guide, we got the opportunity to experiment with the products too. The easy pull chord of the Tupperware Chop n ‘Prep Chef made it fun to do some seriously quick chopping to make Gremolata (which I now know is a chopped herb condiment typically made of lemon zest, garlic, and parsley). The Quick Chef  helped us mince the veggies so small without pureeing them.  With all of my past kitchen blender blunders, it was refreshing to use an appliance where I felt totally in control.  The veggies didn’t turn to mush or get watery.

In the test kitchen we watched the chef skillfully work with rabbit using the new Tupperware Boning Knife.  Besides being very thin, it’s the extra 2” on the blade Chef Marco believes “makes all the difference in the world.”  The knife is more pliable and bendable when working with tough meats.

He placed the beautifully sculpted rabbit pieces in the new Tupperware pots which are very large and provide a nice amount of surface area to contain all the heat.  Chef Marco believes many people stuff lots of food into small pans which significantly offsets the cooking balance.  I had no idea that foods need to have ample room to extract their liquids quickly in order to achieve the desired flavor.

We sampled amazing pieces of sautéed chicken cooked to peak perfection on the Tupperware Griddle Pan.  As the chef says, “griddle pans aren’t just for pancakes anymore.”  There’s no risk of burning yourself with this pan since the handles stay cool over the stove and they’re positioned very high.   In addition, the wide surface area of the pan makes it ideal for sautéing.

However, we had the most fun using the Tupperware Whip n Prep.  We were challenged to make fresh whipped cream for the awesome arrangement of freshly sliced fruit before us.  We effortlessly spun the handle around the top and two whisks moved in unison, easily converting the cream to the most perfectly, frothy whipped cream in a record time, without electricity.  I could just imagine my kids fighting over who could use the Whip n Prep first.  It wasn’t a chore, it was actually fun.  While whipping we began rattling off all the other possible uses for the Whip n Prep (which are endless):  pancake batter, egg whites, homemade mayonnaise, sauces, emulsified vinaigrette (to name a few).

The afternoon was so inspiring on many fronts.  From the valuable culinary insights and afternoon of cooking confidence delivered directly from Chef Marco Canora, to the earth-friendly, fun, and easy-to-use Tupperware products, everyone seemed energized to roll up their sleeves and get cooking.

In fact, later at home, my kids used the Chop ‘N Prep to cut up apples and pears, proclaiming it’s “way better than Spin Art.”

Now, that’s cooking with confidence….

Falling Off the Vegetarian Wagon

Last week I ate a steak.  I haven’t eaten meat in almost 3 years.  No beef, pork or chicken or other poultry – though I never gave up fish.  I never intended to become a pescetarian, it just sort of happened.  There was a confluence of events that made me stop eating meat.  First a New York Times Sunday Magazine issue called The Green Issue came out in April and in one article spelled out the environmental cost of beef production very simply.  Since I was already carrying my reusable bags and Sigg water bottles trying to be greener it seemed only right to cut down on something that was one of the worst pollution and climate change offenders.  This coupled with the disgusting stories coming out about factory farming, hormones, antibiotics and all the rest made it not too difficult to cut down on meat.

Then we had a Memorial Day weekend away that involved a 3 day meat fest.  Between the barbeques, bacon breakfasts and chili bonanza I was so grossed out with the nonstop meat eating that I decided to go meat free for the next month.  That became two months, then three and then a year and then two years and so on until this past Saturday night.  What happened?  Well, honestly I’ve been craving red meat for about a month.  Really craving – like thinking about it every time I planned a meal, went to the market or went out to eat.  I found myself thinking about steak all the time – it was ridiculous.  And I tried every substitute I could think of.  Quorn meatballs, sesame tofu, Boca Burgers.  You name the “meatless” meat and I was eating it.  But nothing sated that desire.

Still, I thought it would pass.  Then I went out to eat with some friends and found myself staring at a small and lovely menu, but I could not bear to eat another mixed seafood entree or pasta or salad.  I just couldn’t.  And there it was: Steak Frites.  Grass fed, locally butchered steak.  Simple.  So simple.  A bottle of red wine was ordered and that sort of sealed the deal.  My husband was genuinely worried when I ordered, convinced I’d get physically ill the moment I took a bite.  But I didn’t.  And it was delicious.  I ate about half of it and was fine.   More than fine.  I felt right.  And that was that.

I don’t know if or when I’ll ever eat meat again.  I’m not focusing on it or ruminating.  Like anything in life being too rigid or dogmatic with food puts it on a pedestal that’s not healthy either.  I’m happily back to fish, veggies, fruit and way too much pasta because that’s what feels right mentally, physically and philosophically but I’m relieved that I can fall off that wagon and get right back on.

Nothing Says Thanksgiving Like Jell-O

Yes I am one of those read-all-the-labels, organic milk buying, farmers market shopping, will not make mashed potatoes from a box kind of moms.  But then Thanksgiving rolls around and every inch of my Midwestern rooted soul craves some particularly 1950s-centric foods.  I spent every Thanksgiving of my childhood in suburban Michigan, staying at my grandmother’s house and feasting at my aunt and uncle’s with no less than 40 people every year.  Kids’ table?  Check.  Tex-Mex dip?  Yup.  Giant round pumpernickel bread filled with spinach dip? Hell yes.  But the most steadfast and true addition to the Thanksgiving buffet had to be the Jell-O mold shimmering brilliantly alongside the pumpkin and apple pies.

The Jell-O mold is a lost art.  Both of my grandmothers were masters of the form.  It wasn’t enough to pour that boiling, artificially colored liquid into a mold and just let it set up.  No.  There were ribbons to be created, sour cream to be swirled in forming pastel shaded layers, slices of bananas and bits of walnuts for texture, and maybe even crushed pineapple.  Oh yes, that little box of Jell-O was just a starting point for a thing of beauty.  And then there were the molds – the gorgeous copper molds.  When my grandmother’s Parkinson’s made it too hard for her to bake anymore, and even to make her fabulous Jell-O sculptures, she gave me her copper molds (with the hook so you could hang them on the kitchen walls of course).  I wish I could say I use them every year but they were stolen from my house in college, the thief taking boxes of belongings that were being stored in our basement over the summer.  I’m sure the thief threw them out as soon as he opened the box and realized it wasn’t computer equipment he had stolen, but I would have rather lost my computer that summer than the copper fish, intricate bunt and cheerful pineapple molds that are gone forever.

I have never attempted the super fancy Jell-O molds of my childhood, but this year we are having a very sad little Thanksgiving, just the 4 of us.  Since the cooking part will be a breeze I am thinking it’s time to bring back the Jell-O mold and see if I inherited my grandmother’s knack for turning the most simple of packaged foods into something more glamorous and special.  Jell-O might just be so corny at this point that it’s actually cool and retro – or at least that’s what I’ll be telling myself as I slice those bananas and swirl in the sour cream.  Now I just have to scour the thrift stores for some copper molds.   And maybe by remembering my grandmother in this way it won’t be just the four of us at Thanksgiving after all.

Check out my fellow Yahoo! Motherboard bloggers’ fabulous Thanksgiving post at Yahoo! Shine! (they’re all very talented)

Tornados, Tequila and the Totally Adorable Marcela Valladolid

Several weeks ago I went to one of those blogger events that include the promise of good food, fabulous company and a really fun evening – plus a car and driver to whisk me and a few other NYC bloggers to our destination in the wilds of New Jersey.  Okay, it was the suburbs, but this evening coincided with one of the worst weather events in the NY Tristate areas, complete with tornadoes in Brooklyn and Queens.  Packed into the SUV with Kim Coleman (MomInTheCity), Katja Presnal (Skimbacol Lifestyle) and my fellow Blogging Angel, Nancy Friedman (FromHiptoHousewife) we braved the storm and risked our lives to arrive in time to party with the seriously-tiny-in-person, beautiful and ridiculously talented Marcela Valladolid host of Mexican Made Easy on The Food Network.

The evening was sponsored by Sauza Tequila as a Ladies Night In so you can imagine the amount of tequila we consumed as Marcela stirred and shook up cocktail after cocktail that left those frozen margaritas of your college days in the dust.  Even a hot cider version.  Yes, it was ridiculously good – so good Katja proclaimed that all ski lodges around the world must serve it immediately.  I concur, especially since I don’t ski and so spend all day in the lodge on my laptop.

Marcela demonstrated numerous wonderful recipes.  And she caused a fire – on purpose of course – when she taught everyone how to flambe.  But, the thing I was taken with about Marcela was how passionately she spoke about her upbringing, how much she believed in fresh homemade food (no orange cheese people!!), and what an amazing advocate she is for real Mexican cooking not the gross American version.  It’s a very under-represented cuisine in my opinion.  Pick up her cookbook, Fresh Mexico and you will see what I’m talking about.  Also you can watch the whole evening online because it was simultaneously webcast that evening.  Though I advise holding off on the Sauza if you’re planning to flambe!  (but by all means make that lemon-lime tequila drink for during the meal.  So damn good I convinced my sister to serve it at her wedding…)

One last thing I have to mention about this event.  I am a vegetarian – or a pescetarian actually – and there was nothing for me to eat aside from the guacamole at this event.  But, Dawn Sandomeno of PartyBluPrintsBlog – who along with her partner Elizabeth Mascali graciously hosted the event in her home was so upset that I didn’t have enough to eat she offered to go into her own fridge and get me soup she had made for her family.  Now, if that is not the sign of the ultimate hostess I don’t know what is.  So, if she’s doling out party tips you should listen to her!  Check out their PartyBluPrints Blog and their book, Plan to Party.

This event was also hosted by the fabulous Role Mommy Beth Feldman who somehow squeezes 28 hours into a day has a new online magazine called Project You full of great articles and even a funny, fabulous one by none other than Nancy Friedman.  (twice in one post I’m mentioning her.  What will Google make of that?)

What’s In Your Friend’s Grocery Cart?

When I head to the grocery store I have a few lists – my mental list, my husband’s written down list of things he’s noticed we need, and lastly my subconscious list that gets triggered as I walk the aisles (or depending on how hungry and/or PMS I am the evil list that somehow throws the Mallomars into my cart).  My cart more or less always looks the same, filled with the basics that make up our family’s diet.  It never occurred to me that these items were unique, interesting or in any way different than anyone else’s.  But, a while back I went to Costco with a friend I don’t usually shop with and she looked in my cart and said, “Wow, we have totally different carts.  I would never buy any of that stuff.”  I looked in her cart and thought pretty much the same thing.

There we were – two very good friends, with fairly identical parenting approaches, the same political views, the same family backgrounds, even similar husbands and kids who adore each other, with two completely different grocery carts.  How different could they be?  Well, I’ve written before about my disdain for prepackaged, portioned snack food.  My friend is the queen of those items – it’s one of those short cuts that make her life easier so it makes sense for her.  She’s a big Vitamin Water drinker.  Me, not so much.  I am a vegetarian (though I eat fish so technically I’m a pescetarian).  So, my cart was full of clams and sardines for various pasta sauces, frozen wild salmon and shrimp and lobster salad.  Hers was full of chicken nuggets, canned pasta and soup.  We joke that my daughter is a fruititarian so I had enough fruit to open a farm stand.  She had applesauce and fruit snacks.  She likes one brand of turkey and yogurt; I like another.  Ditto for toilet paper, paper towels and bread.  I need dark chocolate and good balsamic vinegar in my pantry at all times.  She needs baby carrots and multi-grain chips and salsa.

The funniest thing about looking at our two different carts and cracking up is that the biggest, most obvious difference between us is that I cook almost every night and she doesn’t.  Her priority when shopping is to get the things for in between her children’s meals since a lot of nights they order in or go out and lunch is taken care of at school.  My priority is to fill up on staples and fill in on the fresh stuff so I don’t have to run to the market every day.  I’m looking at three meals a day, she’s usually only looking at one; and that’s breakfast.   But none of this had ever occurred to me until that day.

It’s a strange thing grocery shopping with a friend.  Unlike clothes shopping where you are helping each other out or asking opinions food shopping is very utilitarian and at the same time way more revealing.  So next time a girlfriend is going food shopping make it a date and I bet you’ll learn more about your friend and her family than you ever realized before.  (And if she’s one of those people who can buy bags of potato chips or giant boxes of Oreos and not eat them herself you may want to reconsider your friendship)

This post originally appeared on nycmomsblog

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