Friday, January 18, 2019

Chef's Tasting Table 2019 | Citrus Bonanza + A Cara Cara Jam Jar Dressing

This was the 2nd annual Citrus Chef's Tasting Table and I'm already looking forward to our 3rd next year. It's a BIG in-season fan favorite for all.

Pictured from the top:
Pummelo's (the large yellow grapefruits)

I visited both Diamond Lake and West Oak back to back this week; Without a doubt, we have 750+ citrus lovers in our district!

Now that we have their attention, get your eaters to think outside of the orange-wedge-box and make your own jam jar salad dressing! You can thank me later for helping you to get your kids to eat their greens.

A Cara Cara Jam Jar Dressing

1-2 Cara Cara oranges juiced (about 1/4 cup. And type of orange will work here!)
2 Tbsp vinegar (any kind you have on hand - Apple cider vinegar, White vinegar, Red/White Wine vinegar, Balsamic vinegar all works)
1 Tbsp honey
1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp iodized or sea salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 garlic clove minced (optional)

Place all ingredients in a mason jam jar. Put the lid on and shake vigorously (a great job for kids!) until it's all mixed up. Enjoy on your favorite greens (my kids LOVE Gotham Greens), plus it would be delicious on fish too! Store in the refrigerator. 

To the mullies we go...

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Chef's Tasting Table 2019 | Chocolate Avocado Pudding with a Quick Blueberry Syrup

Everyone at Jewel thinks I'm nuts.
I think I am.

We are still recovering from this massive avocado processing we did before break. Thank you to the moon and back Steve Juracka (Assoc Superintendent & Wellness Chair), Julie Marchese (school nurse and wellness committee) and my amazing Mom Brenda (retired kindergarten teacher and best sous chef ever) for helping me scoop, process and fill up endless cups in the lunchroom! This food education day could not have been pulled off without YOU ALL! 🤛🏻👊🏻🤜🏻

I forgot to take pictures of the finished tasting cups. Bleh. 

So, to wet your whistles, here are some pictures of the day before in the Mundelein High School Transition Center where the participants did an incredible job "plating" their chocolate pudding and garnishes.

We had mixed reactions 👍🏻👌🏻👎🏻 which always means we are on track for stretching these students’ taste buds and food bravery. I especially love when staff ask me for the recipe!

Chocolate Avocado Pudding + Quick Blueberry Syrup
2 🍌’s
4 🥑’s
1/2 c raw cacao
1/2 maple syrup (add more maple syrup to taste if needed for your eaters) 
1 c milk of choice (I used organic rice milk for allergy awareness)
1 T pure vanilla extract
Pinch of salt

Blend everything until smooth in food processor. Ideally, chill in the refrigerator before enjoying with your favorite toppings.

I gotta tell you the story behind how the blueberry syrup came to be. 

I originally went to Prairie Wind Family Farm to pick up cranberries. With my sunglasses still on, I walked into the barn and looked in the coolers, but couldn’t find them and then decided to look in the freezer. There they were!

They weren't cranberries. 
They were blueberries.

Thankfully, Jen let me keep them. And what a perfect switch up it turned out to be! 

Previously frozen fruit is PERFECT to make a quick syrup (heating on the stove will render a thicker, more intensely flavored syrup) and so that’s just what we did together at the D120 Transition Center + West Oak.

Here’s how you can make it too and it’s super fun to make with kids!

Quick Blueberry Syrup

2 c thawed, previously frozen blueberries 
2-3 Tbsp honey
pinch of salt

In a bowl, muddle together (I used a potato masher) the 2 cups of thawed blueberries with some honey and a pinch of salt. Smoosh the berries until all the pulp and juice is released. Pour the blueberry liquid through a fine mesh strainer and into a new bowl. Spoon this gorgeous liquid over anything your heart desires... vanilla ice cream anyone?

To the Mullies we go...

Monday, November 19, 2018

Chef's Tasting Table 2019 | Pumpkin Butter + Jicima + Pears

Watcha making for your Thanksgiving Table?

How bout something super simple, tasty, versatile and your kids can make it?

Please welcome pumpkin butter to your world - I've never made so much in my life.

You can find pumpkin butter recipes all over the "interweb" and I chose this simple recipe from Half Baked Harvest as my go-to for our food education fun this Fall season; Thank you for the constant cooking inspiration Tiegan Gerard, your food blog is AMAZEBALLS. 

slightly lowered the pumpkin spice amount and here is what I scooped up for our November school lunch tasting in the lunch room. 

The best part =  kids can make it themselves!

Pumpkin Butter

1 14-16oz can/box of organic pumpkin puree
1/2 c pure maple syrup
1/3 c organic apple cider
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp iodized salt

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl and serve as a dip, spread, oatmeal mix in, yogurt parfait...  

or your own pumpkin spice latte!


The kids loved the tasting and many had NEVER tried jicima ("yambean") before. I brought an uncut, whole jicima so the students could see how weird and brown it looks on the outside and identify it in the grocery during future shopping trips. 

Big thanks to Produce Manager Bob at our local Maple St Jewel for coordinating the massive jicima order and to Chef Myra for cutting them all up for us!! 

I am so thankful to the Diamond Lake School District Administration and Wellness Committee for sharing a passion for food education. It's been a dream to spear head this school lunch room tasting program every month, and I'm simply having a ball brainstorming new "bite sized" initiatives with the committee which are making such a difference in our #d76diamonds community.  

How did we get started? 

4 years ago, I helped the school district apply for the The Chef Ann Foundation Project Produce Grant which was the spark behind our "Chef's Tasting Table."

And speaking of sparks...

Link over to their website and be inspired by how the foundation works tirelessly to inspire and empower school districts to reform school food. 

I am so very honored and excited to celebrate this incredible 10 year milestone with them: 

Thank you thank you thank you Chef Ann Foundation for leading American school food reform!

It all starts at home plate.

To the Mullies we go...

Friday, October 12, 2018

A Taco Tuesday Grape Salsa + Wild Orange Anything Dip

September was a BIG month for spreading food education and gorgeous food love in the schools! 

As a member of the Diamond Lake District 76 Wellness Committee, we wanted to do something special for the teachers to kick off the school year. 

Our committee cooked up this first round of "Lunch and Learns" where I visited each school's teachers' lounge (Fairhaven, Diamond Lake, and West Oak School) and treated the staff to some delicious recipes. 

We had such relaxed, fun conversation together around all things, mostly food! 

I made a "Wild Orange Anything Dip" and a "Grape Salsa" which I served alongside as much produce as possible from Prairie Wind Family Farms. Whenever possible, I partner with local farmers like Jen and Jeff Miller because every dollar goes back directly to their farm which improves Lake County's economic, social and environmental sustainability. I was able to find all pantry ingredients at Jewel & Target.

Wild Orange “Anything” Dip
Inspired by Sarah Britton's Tangerine Tahini Dip (My New Roots)

8 oz Almond Butter (or any seed/nut butter of choice)
1-2 knobs ginger minced (a heaping Tbsp or so)
8 tsp pure maple syrup
8 tsp apple cider vinegar
3 Tbsp coconut aminos (or tamari or soy sauce)
sprinkle of cayenne pepper (optional)
1/4 tsp sea salt
14 drops Wild Orange dōTerra essential oil (or use the zest and juice from 1-2 of your favorite fresh oranges!)
1/2+ c of any type of milk to thin out (I used macadamia nut milk)
1 tsp black sesame seeds
1 tsp local bee pollen 

Whisk together all ingredients in a large bowl and enjoy with your favorite vege and/or fruit! Store in the refrigerator and add into your lunch for the week. Garnish with black sesame seeds and local bee pollen for more lick-the-bowl goodness.

Keep hanging with me for the grape salsa recipe... 

As the Compass Hiking and Yoga Retreats Chef, this month also marked the launch of our Compass Outreach Program! I am thrilled to announce our partnership with Mundelein High School District 120 Transition Center. As a proud alumni of Mundelein High School and current resident in the community, it's an honor to be joining the participants and staff every month this school year.

We had a ball making the grape salsa together. Along with basic knife safety & cutting skills (like the "cat claw"), we discussed the different ingredients and the versatility of grape salsa; Whether you make it to trick out your Taco Tuesday, eat it alone, put it on on chicken, pour it over fish or add it to anything else you can dream up, it's a "food hero" dish for sure.

A Taco Tuesday Grape Salsa
Inspired by Sarah Britton's "Cleansing Grape Salsa" (My New Roots)

1 lb mixed grapes (we mixed red, green and concord varieties)
1 small serrano pepper (deseeded and minced)
1 bunch fresh chives minced
1/2 c (about 1 big handful) fresh cilantro chopped
1-2 knobs fresh ginger peeled & minced
4-5 radishes minced
2-3 limes juiced (plus zest from one lime or 3-4 drops of dōTerra lime essential oil)
1 Tbsp Thrive algae oil or extra virgin olive oil
Ionized salt or sea salt to taste

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly.

It all starts at hOMe plate!

To the mullies we go...

Monday, September 10, 2018

Chef's Tasting Table 2019 | A Tomato Tasting with Prairie Wind Family Farm

Now that's a lot of 2nd's and 3rd's boys! Way to EAT those tomatoes!!

Welcome to the 2019 Chef's Tasting Table School Year with Diamond Lake School District 76!

I am just thrilled to be writing this post, as it's my third year in the lunch room with the D76 students and staff. I am simply amazed by our evolution in food education together.

3 years ago:

  • Most of the 8th grade students chose not to eat "lunch". Many tables would share candy and/or other processed snacks (like Takis Chips) brought from home. Very few participated in the school lunch program with Preferred Meals.
  • The majority of 7th and 8th graders were very hesitant or declined to try the foods at our tastings. 
  • It helped to "hide" the ingredients of a tasting table menu item as it helped students be more adventurous. Once I revealed the ingredients (like spinach!), they were more willing to try an unfamiliar or "weird" food the next time.
  • The majority of the 5th and 6th graders were always up for a tasting. They were enthusiastic and excited every month.

  • Virtually EVERY student in EVERY lunchroom (5th-8th) eats lunch whether it's a sack lunch from home or served from Preferred Meals.
  • The majority of EVERY lunchroom participates in the tasting. And I don't even have to hide the ingredients anymore to get kids to try what I'm serving up!
  • All grade levels exhibit enthusiasm for our Chef's Tasting Tables. WOW!
HUGE thank you's to Jennifer and Jeff Miller of Prairie Wind Family Farm for providing the beautiful and TASTY tomatoes for our very first tomato tasting. The kids asked for seconds and thirds more than every before. I simply love coming to the farm, talking to your staff, and picking up your organic produce (just 9 miles away from West Oak School)!

Each student received a boat of tomatoes that were sliced and prepared three ways:
  • Plain
  • Sprinkled with sea salt
  • Sprinkled with organic sugar
Why the three options? To begin sharing the experience of how seasoning can effect taste with the students. 
  • Why is tomato sauce and pizza sauce sometimes sweeter than eating a raw tomato? Well, the chef adds some sweetener to cut the acidity! 
  • Can you believe how a little salt brings out more flavor? 
  • Isn't it amazing how naturally sweet a grape tomato is all by itself!?
I was joined by a friend and fellow graduate from the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, Ms Erika Quezada-Sanchez of Lotus Life and Wellness. I am so grateful to be connected to her through our Mind Body Nutrition training and especially appreciative of her volunteering with me in the lunchroom! Thank you for sharing this awesome day with me and the students Erika, and I can't wait for you to join us again and spread more fun food education together!

More Guts More Glory - It all starts at hOMe plate!

To the Mullies we go...

Sunday, August 5, 2018

In the French Kitchen with Kids | Mr. Neil's Roast Chicken

It's an honor today to be posting about my friend Mardi Michel's new cookbook, In the French Kitchen with Kids. She and I connected back in 2012 as ambassadors in Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution Community and we are both hanging in strong today as global Super Ambassadors. 

Mardi Michels of is a full time French teacher in Canada and also teaches children how to cook twice a week in her school's food lab. 

She is such an inspiration! 

I'm singing her cookbook "to the Mullies" and beyond today. (Pronounced "Muh-lies," this means "Geronimo." My sister and and I coined the phrase back in the early 80's while jumping off high, scary places with unknown landings.) 

Isn't that like cooking (with or without kids)?

I have fallen unabashedly, head over heals, for her delicious French recipes... And so have my kids. Her well thought out cookbook begins with "top tips for cooking with kids" which are spot on for anyone who is interested in welcoming little ones into the craziness of a kitchen. She also outlines the basics (pantry ingredients & equipment) to get your French Kitchen party started. NOTE: This is NOT fancy stuff - Super doable, realistic and time tested by Mardi who is one of the most seasoned, practical chefs and teachers I know! The holidays are coming... time to get those lists started, or a quick trip to TJMax. The "kitchen blowtorch" is on my wish list. Crème brûlée, I'm coming after you.

This is the first post of many from her cookbook - Bon Appetite! 

I decided to cook up Mr. Neil's Roast Chicken for our dear friends who moved away to the Bahamas (Krissy's Gone Coconuts) last week. It was totally impromtu (they were packing and needed to be fed!). I invited the boys into the kitchen with me and it turned out to be the most wonderful going away dinner ever.

Let's rewind the evening and tell the picture story of how Mr. Neil's Roast Chicken came together.
(This cooking instastory can be found under ⚡️FoodEdFun⚡️highlights here.)

Tommy is my youngest and most enthusiastic chef. He tells me he wants to go to culinary school and live at home forever... my heart goes pitter patter.

Tommy says: "I want to stay home because at college you have to sleep there and I don't know if I'm gonna have a creepy cell mate."

A confident rock-chopper.

Tommy says, "Rock-chopping like a T-Rex!"

We had some good laughs stuffing the organic, pasture raised bird with lemons, garlic and thyme from our kitchen garden. Tommy had never stuffed a bird's cavity before. 

Tommy says, "This was disgusting, I didn't want to shove a lemon up the chicken's butt. But it was ok."

When Tommy's friend Wolfi came over, he just watched for a bit. It's rather unnerving watching someone prep a chicken for roasting if you've never done this before (I'll never forget putting pats of butter under a bird's skin for the first time myself!). I invited the boys to help me, made it fun, we laughed and relaxed... and they decided to join me!!

Don't worry if your little cooks decide not to join in... they might next time. I LOVE how Mardi coaches you through the unexpected food education moments in her cookbook:

"Kids might be squeamish about touching raw chicken (especially when it comes to placing the lemons, garlic and herbs in the cavity and butter under and over the skin.) The more they see you doing tasks like this, though, the more normal (and less gruesome) it will appear. In the meantime, get them busy chopping the vegetables and mixing in the oil and seasoning in the roasting pan."  Mardi Michels - In the French Kitchen with Kids 

Tommy says, "It feels super weird to put the the butter under the skin and feel it."

Can you believe I stretched this recipe for our entire dinner party! I made a quick gravy with the drippings from the root vegetables (the vegetables are the VERY BEST PART!!!!). I also froze the chicken carcass in a gallon freezer bag to make stock for a future soup night.


Tommy says, "It was really tasty. It was really fun cooking with you again Mom. Can we make the french fries and chocolate croissants (pains au chocolat/chocolatines) next?"

Yes Tommy. Yes we can.

I will be making Mr. Neil's Roast Chicken again and again for my family table. Thank you Mardi + Mr Neil for including such a special recipe in your 1st cookbook. 

I'll be first in line for your 2nd someday.

Here is her amazing recipe for you to share with YOUR family table! 
*ps If you would like to share your experience with Mardi and others in the food education world, don't forget to use the hashtag #inthefrenchkitchenwithkids and #tothemullies*

I can't wait to be inspired by your French cooking adventure!

Mr. Neil's Roast Chicken {Poulet Roti}
Serves 4
Prep time: 25 minutes
Cook time: about 1.5 hours

2-3 c roughly chopped assorted root vegetables (we used rainbow carrots, celeriac, turnips, potatoes)
2 medium yellow onions, thickly sliced
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 small lemons, grate the zest of one and use both for the chicken
6 sprigs fresh thyme (we also added 2 Tbsp fresh oregano leaves here)
2 tsp flaky sea salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 whole chicken (ours was organic, antibiotic free and pasture raised from a local Midwest farm)
2 cloves garlic, unpeeled but smashed
A few sprigs of fresh thyme
1/4 c salted butter, at room temperature
1-2 tsp dried Herbes de Provence or dried thyme
Freshly ground black pepper

1/4 c salted butter melted
2 cloves garlic, unpeeled but smashed

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Scatter the chopped vegetables in a roasting pan with olive oil. Add lemon zest, thyme, oregano, salt and pepper to the vegetables and, using your hands, mix until all the vegetables are coated. Make sure the vegetables are sitting evenly on the bottom of the roasting pan.
  3. Pat the cavity of the bird dry using a paper towel.
  4. Cut both of the lemons in quarters and place them in the cavity of the bird with the smashed garlic and a few sprigs of fresh thyme. If all the lemon quarters don't fit, you can pop them in the pan with the vegetables - just don't forget to take them out when you are serving the chicken.
  5. Cut about half of the butter into small pieces and place them under the skin of the bird. To do this, start at the cavity end of the chicken and slide on or two fingers between the meat and the skin. Work slowly, separating the skin from the meat as far as you can reach. Squish the butter pieces slightly and fit them under the skin as best you can.
  6. Spread the remainder of the butter over the outside of the skin. The easiest way to do this is with your hands. Season the bird with the Herbes de Provence or dried thyme and a touch of pepper.
  7. Place the bird directly on the vegetables in the roasting pan and place in the oven for 20 minutes, until the skin starts to brown nicely.
  8. Add smashed garlic to the melted butter and place this over very low heat on the stovetop. You will use this to baste the chicken while it's roasting.
  9. Turn down the oven to 400 degrees and roast the chicken for 60 to 70 minutes more, or until a meat thermometer inserted into the high part of the the thigh registers 165 degrees. Normally, you can count on about 20 minutes' cook time per pound of chicken but to be absolutely sure, a meat thermometer is the way to go!
  10. While the bird is cooking, baste it every 20 minutes or so with the melted butter and smashed garlic. This will season the bird even more.
  11. Once the bird is cooked, remove it from the oven (leave the vegetables in the roasted pan), place it on a cutting board (preferably one that has a drain ridge to catch any juices), cover it loosely with aluminum foil and allow it to rest for about 10 minutes before you carve it.
  12. Give the vegetables a good stir and place the roasting pan back in the oven until you are ready to serve the meal. If the vegetables are not crispy enough, you can set the boiler to high (around 400 degrees) and broil them for about 5 minutes, but do keep an eye on them as they might burn.
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To the Mullies we go...