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UC Food Safety
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UC Food Safety

UC Food Blog

Passing the torch: Cooking with kids

Perhaps you, like me, have found yourself amused and bemused as you have made your way through the refrigerator and frozen food sections of the local grocery store, and observed the proliferation of pre-made food options. Items such as already hard-boiled eggs, breakfast burritos, frozen chunks of cooked chicken meat, vacuum sealed marinated tri-tip, and mini-hamburgers nestled in buns all vie for attention in freezer and refrigerator spaces. Pancakes stacked up in neat little towers were my favorite “you must be joking” moment, to be swiftly followed by a bit of melancholy that so many of us don't take the time to cook much any more.

As we all know, the benefits of preparing fresh food at home are myriad. Alas, the time savings and convenience of prepared foods can beckon strongly.

So when I happened to hear during a radio interview with celebrity chef Guy Fieri that he was partnering with California State Senator Anthony Cannella in introducing Senate Joint Resolution 5, which designates every Sunday as “Cooking with Kids Day,” it seemed like a great idea.

The Joint Resolution “encourages parents and children to spend time in the kitchen together and prepare a healthy meal; and be it further resolved that the legislature recognizes the health benefits of cooking with kids at least one day a week throughout the year and encourages parents, caregivers, and children to shop together, select ingredients, and prepare a healthy meal to share together each week.”

Initially, in 2008, Chef Fieri collaborated on a resolution that the second Sunday in May was “Cook with your Kids Day” (Senate Concurrent Resolution 94), but he decided once a year just wasn’t enough so he approached Senator Cannella about drafting this new resolution.  After approval 39-0 on April 25, 2011, by the Senate, Senate Joint Resolution 5 now awaits approval by the California Assembly.

Cooking with kids once a week is a worthwhile, if lofty, goal. Finding menu ideas that lend themselves well to helpful little hands can be a big help. Some resource websites include: All Recipe’s Kid-Friendly Recipes, Cooking with Kids, and Food Network’s Cooking For Kids.

It’s a long-term investment that pays rich dividends. I love the fact that my adult children have embraced the passion of preparing "from scratch" wholesome and delicious food, and now after years of patiently (usually) teaching food preparation techniques and tips, they have turned the tables back on me, and often inspire me with their culinary creations. Pass that torch, it’s a win for everyone.

Sunday-best oatmeal pancakes

2 c. old fashioned oats
2 + c. buttermilk
2 eggs
1/4 c. canola oil
1/2 c. all purpose flour
2 Tbls. sugar (organic if desired)
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon (optional)
1/2 c. raisins or blueberries (optional)

Combine oats and 2 c. buttermilk in a large bowl, let sit 15 minutes. Stir in eggs and oil and beat well. On top of oat and buttermilk mixture, make a mound of the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon (if desired). Take a fork and lightly blend the dry ingredients together. Then stir the dry ingredients into the oat and buttermilk mixture until well blended. Add 1-3 Tbls. additional buttermilk if needed. Pour 1/4 c. batter on greased pancake griddle pre-heated to medium high. If desired, sprinkle with raisins or blueberries.  When pancakes are brown on the bottom, and bubbles start breaking on the top, turn pancake.  Cook until browned on both sides.  Makes about 18 3-4" pancakes.

Posted on Thursday, May 5, 2011 at 8:57 AM
  • Author: Mary E. Reed

Fish tonight, but not just any fish!

The sturgeon never ceases to amaze folks.

The largest freshwater fish in the world, it can live more than 100 years, tip the scales at 1,500 to 2,000 pounds and reach 20 feet in length.

It’s a primitive fish that, according to fossil records, lived more than 175 million years ago. For its uniqueness, some think it belongs in the same category as the (now extinct) wooly mammoth  and  the saber-toothed tiger -- both disappeared at the end of the Pleistocene epoch, about 12,000 years ago,

Other just consider the sturgeon a “good-eatin’ fish,” like halibut or swordfish.

If you’re NOT an angler or a friend of a "Sturgeon General "-- with no access to this tasty fish -- you can sometimes buy farm-raised sturgeon in the supermarket or order it in a restaurant.

We recently marinated a freshly caught sturgeon with a lemon-garlic base, popped it on the grill, and served it with green salad and a crusty bread. Delicious!

Lemon-garlic marinated sturgeon

Pound of sturgeon, cut into two six-inch strips

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
6 cloves of garlic
4 fresh bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
Zest of one medium-sized lemon
1 teaspoon coarse black pepper

Pulse the marinade ingredients in a blender, and then pour into a zip-locked plastic bag. Add fish, seal the bag, and shake -- or use your fingers to move the marinate around.  Refrigerate for at least two hours or overnight

Remove marinated fish from sealed bag and place on a barbecue grill for a total of about 10 minutes. At the five-minute mark, flip it over and grill another five minutes. (This is a tender fish and will cook fast.)

Serve with rice or a green salad with crusty bread.

You can use this marinade for halibut, swordfish or striped bass, too.

Posted on Tuesday, May 3, 2011 at 8:10 AM

Looking for a smooth(ie) spring

Spring’s here and summer’s coming. We have such an abundance of fruit! If it looks good (I have to cross my fingers that it will taste just as good!), I have to buy it, and then sometimes can’t eat it all.  What to do with your overripe fruit?  Freeze it!

If you’re like me and can’t pass up the bananas at your warehouse store, then hit the banana wall, freeze the extras in chunks on a plate, and use them in smoothies.  When the last of the strawberries are looking a little sad to eat fresh, freeze them individually on a plate and use them in smoothies. Ditto for peaches, kiwis, mango, melon, pineapple … just about any ripe fruit, frozen, is an excellent addition to your smoothie. And speaking of that warehouse store, they also sell this delicious Greek yogurt, which is an excellent and healthy addition to your smoothie. And speaking of additions, in our family, we like a little bite to our smoothie, and usually end up dribbling a little lime juice to finish off the blending.

Want to expand your smoothie repertoire?  How about incorporating vegetables? Smoothies are a painless way to add some extra vegetables to your diet. Often, you can barely tell they’re there and they sure add to the nutritional punch of your smoothie.

Almost everyone could benefit from eating more fruits and vegetables, and smoothies are an easy way to do it. With ingredients low in fat, low in calories, low in sodium, high in fiber and nutritionally dense, smoothies could, and maybe should, become a regular part of your warm days routine. Here are a couple of websites and my favorite recipe to start your smoothie engines:

Mix-it-up Smoothie

½ frozen banana

5-7 frozen strawberries

½ C frozen blueberries, raspberries,  kiwi or pineapple

½ C greek yogurt

Enough milk to get it swirling in your blender

2-3 T lime juice (preferably fresh squeezed)

Posted on Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 8:52 AM

$4.8 million study fights childhood obesity in Central Valley

UC Davis professor Adela de la Torre, a national expert on Chicano and Latino health issues, received a five-year, $4.8 million federal grant to discover the best ways to help Mexican-heritage children in California maintain healthy weights.

The study, called "Niños Sanos, Familia Sana" (Healthy Children, Healthy Family), will take place in the Central Valley towns of Firebaugh and San Joaquin.

“More than four in every 10 children born to parents of Mexican heritage are overweight or obese, and therefore at greater risk of early diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease,” said de la Torre. “We are fortunate that we have received unprecedented support to tackle this issue from community members, so that we can build a healthier environment in Firebaugh and San Joaquin.

“We hope that this is the beginning of a series of long-term, collaborative projects to tackle issues of importance raised by our community advisory board.”

In the UC Davis "Niños Sanos, Familia Sana" study, 400 Firebaugh children and their families will be provided with practical tools, education and incentives to help them eat healthy diets and get sufficient exercise.

The Firebaugh program activities include:

  • $25 monthly in vouchers that can be used to buy fruits and vegetables at participating markets
  • Family Nights that include parent education about children’s nutrition needs and physical activity
  • Classroom instruction for children on nutrition and physical activity
  • Two health screenings yearly to monitor body mass index, skinfold thickness and waist circumference
  • A community art project with murals and posters promoting healthy eating and active living

In San Joaquin, a similar number of children will receive the health screenings. In addition, their parents will be provided workshops on topics such as “How to support your children in school” and “Strategies to help your child prepare for college.” However, the San Joaquin group will not receive the more intensive intervention. (After both towns had agreed to take part in the study, a random card-draw determined that Firebaugh would be the intervention group and San Joaquin would be the control group.) At the study’s end, UC Davis researchers will analyze the results to see which strategies worked best.

“This intervention study will be one of the first of its kind in the nation for Latino children between the ages of 3 and 8 and, hopefully, will help us target what really works in sustaining healthy eating and exercise for Latino families with young children,” said de la Torre.

Lucia Kaiser, a Cooperative Extension specialist in the UC Davis nutrition department and a co-investigator on the "Niños Sanos, Familia Sana" study, said, “This project is an exciting opportunity to pull a multidisciplinary University of California team of social scientists and other professionals to work in partnership with an underserved community to address a pressing health problem -- childhood obesity.”

Posted on Tuesday, April 26, 2011 at 10:19 AM
  • Author: Sylvia Wright

The party's ova

Spring is a big time of year for celebrating with a very cheap (cheep?), common, protein-rich food: the chicken egg. And because the hard-boiled egg has a special place at the Seder table and an important role in Easter morning hunts and afternoon picnics, eggs right now are selling like hotcakes. Problem is, the more eggs your market sells, the more likely you are to get them extra fresh, and consequently, the more trouble you're likely to have getting the things to peel when it's time to eat them up.

Chemistry is at the root of the egg-peeling problem: a newly laid egg has a slightly lower, more acidic pH value than the raw egg that you've stored in the refrigerator for a few days. The higher pH of the stored egg allows its white to cling less firmly to the membrane just inside the shell once it is cooked, and less cling means you can get the shell off more cleanly and easily. If you managed to plan ahead and get your eggs five or more days ahead of time this year, good for you! If you didn't, well, better luck next time. Clean-peeling or not, they'll still taste great.

There's a whole lot more to know about eggs than you might imagine—like whether you should wash eggs before you put them in the fridge (you shouldn't), what's the best way to store eggs in the fridge if you want them to last (pointy end down), and whether the refrigerator door egg rack was really such a great invention after all (it wasn't)—and a fun way to learn more is to visit a 4-H Avian Bowl competition at your local County Fair or other 4-H event.

Thanks to the guidance and commitment of UC Extension Poultry Specialist Francine Bradley, California 4-H teams have been doing very well lately in the Avian Bowl, winning first place in the national competition in eight out of the last ten years.

So next time you have a question about eggs or chickens, go find a 4-Her. Just don't ask them which came first. They get that a lot.

Posted on Friday, April 22, 2011 at 12:27 PM

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