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Cooking Matters Michigan

Empowering families with the skills, confidence and knowledge to prepare healthy and affordable meals

Filtering by Tag: food

Social media smackdown: The blogger Extreme Food Makeover

dorothy hernandez

I have a problem -- I am ADDICTED to cooking competitions. I don't like reality TV but if "Top Chef" is on, I have to watch. This is the main reason why I don't have cable--that and Buffy marathons.

But it's good to know that my obsession came in handy because it gave me an idea.

In the Extreme Food Makeover, we challenge our teen participants to make over a meal; for example, I have seen teens take the typically fattening fettuccine Alfredo and make it low-fat while still tasty. Or one of the more memorable challenges was when a teen group dished up a black bean burger with sweet potato fries -- we were all impressed. To be honest, I have never made a black bean burger that tasty.

The E.F.M. is a way for us to put the teens' new cooking skills and nutrition knowledge to the test -- and I'm always amazed at the healthy and delicious results.

The bloggers -- a savvy cooking and eating bunch -- will be throwing down this weekend in the Blogger E.F.M. Later this week, I'm going to announce their challenge. What is it, you ask? Well, you'll just have to come back on Friday to see what it is! At 10 a.m., I will tweet and post on Facebook their challenge. Check us out then and follow the madness and drama online (one participant will be cooking from a Louisiana hotel room -- seriously, you can't find that on Food Network!) as they do the challenge over the weekend.

Have an idea for a secret ingredient or unhealthy dish for them to makeover? Hit the comments below! Allez cuisine!

Meet the cooks:

Colleen Berendt of Miss Petite Sweets Colleen 1) Where are you from? Grosse Pointe Farms

2) What is your day job? I work in Sales & Catering at the Hilton Garden Inn Downtown.

3) What are your favorite local restaurants? I absolutely love Traffic Jam and Snug & Slow's.

4) What ingredients will we always find in your kitchen? You will always find fresh produce, and whole wheat flour & almond milk for healthy baking.

5) Why should you win the E.F.M.? I have been cooking and baking for as long as I can remember and have never met a delicious recipe I couldn't somehow "healthify" without losing any flavor.

6)What is your favorite food memory? My favorite food memory is going to the farmer's market with my dad to pick out fresh vegetables to make our homemade gazpacho soup and sharing it with all of our neighbors. The soup has now become legendary in the neighborhood:) (Me thinks Colleen needs to share the recipe! -Dorothy)

7) What is your favorite guilty pleasure food? Anything Chocolate

8) Why does cooking matter to you? Cooking matters to me because preparing a meal for someone is the best possible way to show someone you care. Whether it is a three course meal or a simple batch of cookies, the love that goes into it is always apparent.

Aly Darin of The Hungry Dudes (the dudette?) Aly

1) Where are you from? Originally from Yale, Mich. - currently living in Royal Oak.

2) What's your day job? I work for myself & am a professional photographer.

3) What are your favorite local restaurants? I love Vinsetta Garage, The FlyTrap, Toast, The Emory, Cafe Muse....the list goes on and on!

4) What ingredients can we usually find in your kitchen? Fruits & veggies that are in season.

5) Why should you win the E.F.M.? I love the challenge of creating delicious food with a limited number of ingredients! That's when true kitchen creativity shines!!

6) What is your favorite food memory? The smell of my Italian grandmother's sauce - which hit you like a ton of bricks when you walked into her house. That - and grabbing a slice of Oakland bread and trying to dip into the sauce without getting caught!

7) What is your guilty pleasure food? Anything chocolate!

8) Why does cooking matter? I love that cooking is like an adventure - no matter what you're making. You can lose yourself and pour your heart into cooking - whether it is something decadent or something very health conscious. And, cooking for someone is like giving them a big hug!

Bree Glenn of The Mom With Moxie Bree

1) Where are you from? Novi

2) What's your day job? Senior Account Executive at a PR firm.

3) What are your favorite local restaurants? Aubree’s in Northville and Rosie O’Grady’s in Ferndale

4) What ingredients will we always find in your kitchen? During the fall/winter: all the fixings for chili, beef stew and homemade chicken noodle soup. During the spring/summer: it varies.

5) Why should you win the E.F.M.? Because even though I’m not a “foodie,” I’m creative enough to come up with an awesomely healthy dish.

6) What is your fondest food memory? Waking up on cold school mornings to my mom making us a warm breakfast.

7) What is your guilty pleasure food? Pizza! Can’t you tell from my favorite local restaurants? :)

8) Why does cooking matter to you? Cooking matters because it’s just one more way I take care of my family. I’m providing the nutritional needs that will enable my son to grow up healthy and strong, and my husband to live a long and healthy life. Cooking matters because nothing brings a family together, like fun times in the kitchen. That is, after all, the number one room in the house where people congregate.

Lisa Howard of The Cultured Cook Lisa

1) Where are you from? I’m originally from Royal Oak, but I’ve also lived in San Diego, Germany, and Costa Rica.

2) What's your day job? I’m a blend of things: recipe developer, food writer, culinary speaker & cooking instructor…and also occasionally a freelance editor.

3) What are your favorite local restaurants? Due Venti in Clawson, Cocoa Tree and Inn Season in Royal Oak, and Sweet Lorraine’s in Southfield. And of course I have to give a nod to the re-opened Joe Muer’s in Detroit—I used to go to the original one all the time as a kid, and it’s a thrill to dine in the updated restaurant.

4) What ingredients will we always find in your kitchen? About 45 spices and herbs, chocolate in many different forms (although mostly unsweetened cocoa powder and bars of 85%), and at least a dozen different unrefined oils. I also try to keep my cheese drawer and my fruit basket populated.

5) Why should you win the E.F.M? This is probably going to sound corny, but it’s really about the fun of participation, not the winning.

6) What is your fondest food memory? Oh, there are so many! But this year’s unforgettable meal was when I dined at Alfileritos 24 in Toledo, Spain. Not only was the décor stunning and the staff incredibly friendly and accommodating (I’m a gluten-free person), the octopus carpaccio was a work of modern art: rows of small white circles on a square black plate, garnished with a drizzle of orange sauce and a sprig of fresh dill. The gluten-free tiramisu was transcendent with its meltingly rich layers of mascarpone cheese, cocoa, and espresso liqueur. And of course Toledo itself is a magical medieval city, full of winding streets and mazapán (marzipan) shops.

7) What is your guilty pleasure food? To me, quality food is never a source of guilt. By “quality,” I mean pastured/grass-fed animal products, wild-caught and sustainable seafood, whole grains, natural sweeteners, unrefined oils, and as many lovely fruits and veggies as I can get my hands on. Hence, I enjoy all of my food—even desserts—and never feel guilty.

8) Why does cooking matter to you? Cooking is so important for so many reasons: health, enjoyment, a sense of cultural connection, satisfaction, practicality (cooking saves money!), a way to express creativity, even a way to support businesses (i.e., local farmers, food producers, and markets). To cook is to live!

David Moss from Get Sauced David 1) Where are you from? Detroit

2) What's your day job? Stewardship & Events Manager at the ACLU –you know, the people who came up with ‘Can’t Say it? Don’t Legislate it.’

3) What are your favorite local restaurants? Too many to count. Big fan of Bastone Brewery, Inyo Sushi, Traffic Jam & Snug, Supino’s Pizza, Seva, Pizzeria Biga, Vinsetta Garage.

4) What ingredients will we always find in your kitchen? Several flavored sea salts; Trader Joe’s extra virgin olive oil; assorted Asian ingredients—ponzu, Korean bbq sauce, oyster sauce, Thai chili paste, etc; homemade rub for smoking pulled pork, chicken and ribs; wine—either for cooking or drinking.

5) Why should you win the E.F.M.? Because my cuisine reigns supreme!

6) What is your fondest food memory? A major birthday celebration that my wife organized a few years ago. Five course dinner, each course paired with a different wine. Good friends, food and wine—it doesn’t get any better.

7) What is your guilty pleasure food? Chicken Shack—once or twice a year.

8) Why does cooking matter to you? I enjoy cooking because it allows me to learn about different foods, and to express my creativity. A recent month of eating a vegan diet gave me an appreciation for coming up with choices that didn’t include meat. I enjoy exploring different cultures through food, and different methods of cooking—smoked meats; grilled fish, meat and veggies; stir-frying in a wok or searing in a cast-iron skillet. There’s so much to learn, which is why cooking never gets boring.

Sandi Svoboda from Mode Shift Sandi

1) Where are you from? Grosse Pointe Park

2) What's your day job? Freelance writer when not deployed as a reservist with FEMA. Currently I am part of the recovery in Louisiana after Hurricane Isaac.

3) What are your favorite local restaurants? Foran's, Senor Lopez, Clarkston Union, Cass Cafe, Good Girls Go To Paris Crepes

4) What ingredients will we always find in your kitchen? Olive oil, spinach, couscous, one piece of good cheese -- even in my Louisiana hotel room...

5) Why should you win the E.F.M? I should win because not only will my dish be flavorful, healthy and economical, but it is produced in either a hotel room or a mobile office set up for the hurricane response. Not exactly the amenities of my home kitchen.

6) What is your fondest food memory? One of my fondest food memories is the first time my now husband took me to the Clarkston Union on a date, early in our dating life. Their "upscale comfort food" isn't exactly always healthy, but the place is very communal with a basic but creative menu. A favorite cooking memory is when I first made roasted carrot and leek risotto. I had never thought I could cook a dish that tasted like that. It's my go-to for company as it's totally restaurant quality. 7) What is your guilty pleasure food? Homemade Nutella ice cream. 8) Why does cooking matter to you? First because it's so important to our health. Second because it can be such an important family and community builder. Third because it has such vast implications for the planet - by choosing local and organic whenever possible, it's one little step that each person can take to make the world a little better.

Stephanie Zielinski of Cookie A Day Stephanie 1) Where are you from? I am from Royal Oak where I grew up and now live with my husband and three boys. We actually live on the same street I grew up on, just a mile 1/2 mile down.

2) What's your day job? I coach a high school dance team as well as being a stay at home mom for the past 8 years.

3) What are your favorite local restaurants? One of my new favorites...Vinsetta Garage!

4) What ingredients will we always find in your kitchen? You will always find garlic, bananas, and kale in my kitchen, I go to the local market often and always buy those ingredients...even if I know I have them at home.

5) Why should you win the E.F.M.? I should win the E.F.M.C. because over the years cooking fo children I have learned to make the healthiest of foods attractive to even a 4-year-old.

6) What is your fondest food memory? My fondest food memory was learning how to make homemade pasta in my grandma's kitchen. I was with my cousin and after 5 minutes of grandma telling us we were doing thing wrong she shoved us out of the way and finished herself. We were told to only watch that time. After a few more lessons, she trusted us enough to allow us to make the pasta. I was 16. My son, Noah, who is 12 made his first plate of homemade pasta just a few weeks ago.

7) What is your guilty pleasure food? Salted Popcorn!!! I love it, make it almost every night.

8) Why does cooking matter to you? Cooking to me is more then just providing healthy food for my family. It's preserving and honoring the traditions we have and are now creating with our family. There is nothing better then sitting around a table with love ones who enjoy what you created for them or together.

Volunteer spotlight: John Heikka

dorothy hernandez

For the past few months we have had the invaluable help of John Heikka, our chef intern extraordinaire. John just recently wrapped up his internship with us and put into words his experiences and shared with us what brought him to the wonderful world of cooking. He is also teaching a class in Pontiac as a volunteer so we are happy to keep him among our volunteer ranks!

Here's his story:

I’ve been married to my wife Jan for 25 years, and while we have had some challenges like any couple. She is the absolute best. I appreciate so much her ongoing support throughout the last and very trying 6 years. Jan is the cook for a day care in Sterling Heights and amazes me with how many different dishes she can produce with a microwave and rice cooker (their facility does not have a stove). We have two great kids, Robert and Sandra. Robert is now 19 and enrolled and excelling at CAD design at ITT Tech. Robert is a volunteer in our church’s children’s ministry and works as a counselor at “Kids Camp” every summer. Sandra is 12 going on 38. She is certainly an incredibly gifted and talented young lady. Sandra also is a volunteer in our children’s ministry where she teaches and sings. She is currently taking piano as well. Sandra is a straight A student and a member of a student organization dedicated to fighting hunger. She is also my “Sous Chef” at home. They are the best people I know and I am looking forward to going back to “hanging” with them, since my schooling is over.

I am a Detroiter and darn proud of that. I grew up the literal definition of a “fan (atic) of the Lions, Tigers, Pistons, Wings and Wolverines. I graduated high school in 1973 from East Detroit and studied for three years at Sacred Heart Seminary to become a Catholic priest. Got that one wrong! I like Catholics, nothing personal, but I’m not even Catholic anymore. In the early 80’s I met Jan, and left my pursuit of an accounting degree for marital bliss. Back then you could get a job, work hard and just keep moving up. I did just that working for a commercial leasing company and a sub-contractor for 20 years in collections and customer service. I also became an amateur baseball umpire while volunteering at church in the children’s ministry.

I lost my job with the now defunct sub-contractor in November 2005 and we ended up losing our house and basically, as it seemed, our life. I had two surgeries including a heart repair procedure, and after that it was just impossible to land a job that lasted. The four of us currently abide in a 950-square-foot apartment in Warren. I hope to change that soon!

Finally, someone told me that I need to go back to school. So I said, if I have to go back to school, then I am going to have fun. So I enrolled back at Macomb Community College in the Culinary Arts program. I had spent some time teaching kids how to make bread and thought maybe there will be something there for me. And thus, in my last semester I landed a wonderful opportunity for an internship as a chef instructor at Gleaners Community Food Bank in the Cooking Matters program.

My ultimate goal is to be involved with food education. Food is certainly a magical thing. Can you think of any major life event/celebration that does not involve food? Most of them do. Food culture is a part of our families and society. I want to see well executed and simple foods of our traditions come back to our life events and certainly our families’ tables as a way to bring people together again. Somebody has to teach the skills and recipes that have been laid aside by past generations.

But for now, I will pursue a career as a prep cook or institutional cook and further hone my skills. But if the opportunity presents itself, I’ll jump on anything that involves the educational end of cookery.

Why he wanted to get involved in Cooking Matters I was never a “restaurant guy” prior to my enrollment at Macomb and I’ve always had a passion for teaching. So it was a natural fit to develop my skills and confidence while having fun. You should love what you do and do what you love.

It all started early last November when I was conversing with Kathy Grech, our table service instructor at Macomb about how people are just going to have to learn how to take a chicken apart again due to rising food costs. She immediately told me to contact Jake Williams and I did. I would have been happy to just volunteer as a chef/instructor, so being offered the internship was like winning the Super Bowl.

Overall, the class participants were the main highlight. The opportunity to be part of a team teaching a lot of the basics I learned in school in a manner that has such potential to effectively change lives both mentally and physically, is just phenomenal.

I recall early on in a Kids Class in Highland Park this little quiet girl who appeared to be shoved aside by her classmates, telling me after the class in a barely audible volume, “Thank you.” You never know if they are abused, malnourished, bullied or all the above. Her face, voice and those two simple words will never leave me. It’s also what began to build a passion for food education and I knew I was in the right place.

One week we were doing Banana Quesadillas and the coordinator for the class left the honey and peanut butter in her vehicle overnight in the middle of winter. Our coordinators are all great, however they happen to be human, just like the rest of us. The honey needed to be mixed with the peanut butter and some cinnamon. I looked over and saw the participant visibly struggling to mix these extremely cold items. As I saw the clock ticking, I then decided to just put the stainless steel bowl on the stove and whisk as fast as I could. I knew it work, but not a few people around the room were looking at me in an interesting manner. The quesadillas were great. (Editor’s note: This was me. Sorry, John! –dorothy)

Just recently we completed a Spanish speaking class in Mexican Town and the ladies on their way out telling me in their broken English that they learned so much and “Gracias” was really cool stuff. Not so much their words, but their facial expressions make my day, because people lives are being changed for the better.

Every Week One class I do now usually has a sauté’ opportunity and I love asking them why chefs toss items in the pan. Every time somebody will say,” To mix all the items?”. And I always respond, “Well…that is part of it, but don’t I look cool!?!”

His secrets in the kitchen Attitude. Your determination to succeed will be influenced by your determination. There are two kinds of kitchen experiences, success and education. Granted education can be a little disappointing, but if seek out the knowledge you were missing and are determined, then success will be yours! In my perfect world, every kitchen has some cast iron cookware. It is economical, easy to clean and heats very evenly. I’ve used my Dutch Oven as a deep fryer. This stuff lasts forever.

Thirdly, salads are generally under used in everyday home cooking. They are healthy and interesting. To me, 4 ounces of beautifully seasoned and grilled beef tenderloin on top of some leafy greens with walnuts, gorgonzola cheese, dried cherries, and red onions with a nice homemade vinaigrette is just heaven! Fruit salads are great all day as well.

My most humbling experience came this last semester in school. I was going to make a tomato fennel soup, which in the past was really good with a lemon/lime gremolata garnish. In the middle of winter I decided to use fresh roma tomatoes instead of canned. It was a very educational experience. The tomatoes being out of season were so acidic, that the soup was complete disaster. I just kicked myself all the way home.

My most memorable moment came at home prior to Christmas. I was baking cinnamon bread while my wife and the kids were decorating the tree. The pine scent and the cinnamon aroma just says family and Christmas like nothing I’ve ever encountered.

Relaxing Everyonewho is involved in cookery has a “food” activity that they find relaxing. For me, it is grilling some sort of protein or baking bread. I will still knead my bread by hand periodically. It’s good exercise! “Foodieism” can be a bit of a mental illness for some us.

I enjoy playing “competitive putt-putt” with my family. It gets verbally brutal, but we have fun. Also, you can find us in the fall picking apples and other produce when it’s available.

The whole family is big sports fans. We all play and spectate, especially pro football.

A healthy recipe This is one of my new favorite recipes for a side dish. Simple and elegant. Very nutritious.


Onion, small dice 3 oz. Olive Oil 1 Tbsp. Quinoa, rinsed 4 oz, or ½ cup Water or Vegetable Stock 8 fluid ounces or 1 cup Kosher Salt To Taste Pepper To Taste

1. In a small sauce pot, heat the oil and sauté the onions over medium heat for a couple minutes till they start to turn clear. 2. Add the quinoa and brown very slightly. 3. Add the stock or water and season with salt and pepper. For this recipe volume start with ¼ teaspoon of both. 4. Bring to a boil and immediately turn heat to low. Cover pot with lid and simmer till Quinoa has absorbed all the liquid.

Chef’s Notes:

You can add any vegetable with the onions. Any spice can be added with the salt and pepper. Any herb can be added at the very end.

You can adjust the salt and pepper at the end of cooking.

$10 Challenge: 5 ingredients, 2 different meals

dorothy hernandez

Tomorrow I'm going with a Cooking Matters for Adults class to Aldi for the grocery store trip and $10 challenge. The $10 Challenge is a fun way to put participants' newfound cooking and budgeting knowledge to the test: Shoppers have a $10 budget to buy one healthy ingredient from each food group. I went to the store today to give myself the $10 challenge and found some great stuff. I already had an idea to make Asian lettuce wraps because I have leaf lettuce and cilantro at home as well as the seasonings (soy sauce, ginger, etc). I wasn't sure what how to fulfill the other parts of the challenge, though, so I came in with a working list (fruit, low-fat cheese and brown rice) and decided to let prices and stock guide me. Unfortunately there was no low-fat cheese or brown rice so I changed my game plan, selecting nonfat vanilla yogurt and thin whole wheat spaghetti. I figured I could make a fruit smoothie to drink and make noodles with peanut butter sauce (both recipes are personal faves from the CMA book!). I'm also planning to make sesame-ginger asparagus on the side. After buying the food I realized I could make a whole different meal with the ingredients: whole wheat spaghetti with turkey meatballs with a yogurt parfait for dessert. I could toss the asparagus in a lemon vinaigrette for a side dish. Now it's your turn to take our $10 challenge: What five ingredients would you buy and what meal would you make?

Nutrition Quiz


The Detroit Free Press published a great Nutrition Quiz this week about that hard-to-pronounce grain - quinoa. We at Operation Frontline are infatuated with the little pseudocereal, often pairing it with the Ratatouille recipe in our classes.

So why is quinoa so great? According to (is there really a,

1. It’s a VEGETARIAN solution, a balanced-amino-acid source of high quality protein.

2. It’s a SENIOR solution, a high-iron food that raises the hematocrit, delivers more oxygen to the brain, fights senility.

3. It’s a DIABETIC solution, a very low-glycemic-index cereal type food.

4. It’s a TASTE SOLUTION, quite delicious.

The president of the Quinoa Corporation, named Gorad, raves about the properties of the food, saying,

"Quinoa's most pragmatic quality," observed Gorad, "is that it's a basic food with strong earth energy. People who try it categorically respond, 'This tastes good!"

If you've never tried quinoa, this website has some great recipes. The Closet Cooking blog also has some delicious quiona recipes.

Now to test your knowledge -

1. First, some history: Where is the grain grown, and which ancient civilization first harvested it?

a) The Mayans in Mexico

b) The Incas in the Bolivian Andes

c) The Sudanese in the Sahara

2. How do you pronounce quinoa?

a) "Kwin-oh-ah"

b) "Co-in-ah"

c) "Keen-wa"

3. How much more of the daily value of protein does quinoa contain than whole wheat and rice, respectively?

a) 4.2% and 8.7%

b) 9.6% and 12.3%

c) 19.0% and 22.4%

4. Quinoa is significantly higher than whole wheat in lysine, an amino acid. Among other uses, the nutrient-absorbing lysine has been used for which condition?

a) Warts

b) Psoriasis

c) Herpes

For the answers, click here.

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. [youtube=]

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

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.

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

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.

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 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.