A passion for good, healthy meals

Dorothy Firestone in her home kitchen. Photo: Lisa Mandel

BY MARGI LENGA KAHN

Dorothy Firestone is passionate about food that tastes good and is good for you. As my predecessor at the St. Louis Jewish Light, Firestone shared that passion with readers in her beloved column, “Table Talk,” which is also the title of a cookbook and memoir she published in 2007.

These days, however, Firestone’s publishing career has moved into an entirely unique venue: she is the creative mind behind Pantry Plus, a monthly pamphlet of healthy recipes and food tips provided to all of the clients of the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry in St. Louis.

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Her unique, and unexpected, involvement with the food pantry began innocently enough when she delivered a financial donation to Susan Rundblad, who is the Program Coordinator of Community Outreach for the food pantry. Following a tour of the operation, Rundblad and Firestone sat down to talk. Rundblad explained that each bag of food came with a newsletter that Rundblad designed to help their clients eat better. The newsletter included nutritional information and tips for healthy eating. Firestone immediately volunteered to create recipes and suggestions for preparing meals using the contents of the food bag. The first of Firestone’s Pantry Plus pamphlets appeared inside the food bags distributed in November 2009.

“Firestone’s recipes are creative and easy to use,” Rundblad said. “Think about it: what’s the use of giving food to someone who doesn’t know what to do with it. The recipes are helping our clients become healthy and successful cooks.”

Firestone’s publications have generated positive feedback from clients who have told Rundblad that one or more of the recipes had enabled them to prepare dishes that were new to them and that their kids loved.

Firestone tests each of her recipes several times and always includes tidbits of cooking and nutritional wisdom along with the recipes. For example, Firestone recommends that clients rinse canned beans – a simple step that eliminates one-third of the sodium. She also lets her readers know that each bag contains enough protein for their families, even if there is no meat.

As Firestone explained, “If you have pasta for one meal a day and beans for another, you have satisfied your daily protein requirement.”

Rundblad now sends Firestone a monthly email with a list of the foods to be included. For example, last month the food pantry received a USDA donation of fresh chicken, sausage patties, and frozen blueberries. Those items, along with canned fruits, vegetables, and fish, made up the contents of the bags that month.

Based on that list, Firestone created recipes for Super Easy Roast Chicken, Bean Salad, Tuna Bean Salad, and Blueberry Delight, a blueberry sauce that can be served with yogurt or on cereal, pancakes, ice cream and waffles.

“I try to include some of the same things I cook at home,” she said, “or perhaps a variation of those foods that might be leaner and simpler to prepare. I also include a panel on the pamphlet called ‘Tidbits’ which serves to further educate clients about food, nutrition, and food safety.”

Now that Firestone and her husband Billy spend four to six months a year in Sarasota, Fla. Firestone has volunteered to write recipes for the All Faiths Food Bank in Sarasota. To learn more about that food bank and Firestone’s role there, I spoke with Jill Collins, Director of Nutrition and Education.

“Once a month, we put enough staples in a box to feed a family of four for two meals,” Collins said. “Additionally, we have a grocery store where our clients can fill their carts with foods their families would enjoy. We will include Firestone’s recipes in every box and at different areas throughout the store.”

The food bank in Sarasota has a small staff and lacks the resources or time to prepare recipes. They are grateful for Firestone’s efforts and hope that it will help their clients think more about eating healthy, which is one of their primary goals. To enhance the nutritional education component, they will also include nutritional breakdowns of each of Firestone’s recipes.

“My goal with this project is two-fold,” Firestone said. “I want to let people know that they can have healthy meals from the items in their bag, and I want to inspire the joy of cooking. If just one or two families each month cook as a result of these recipes, I’ll be satisfied.”

Margi Lenga Kahn is the mother of five and grandmother of two. A cooking instructor at the Kitchen Conservatory, she is currently working on a project to preserve the stories and recipes of heritage cooks. She welcomes your comments and suggestions at [email protected].

 

One Pan Chicken and Vegetables

4 medium potatoes, sliced (no need to peel them)

6 carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/2-inch rounds

1 large onion, peeled and sliced

8 pieces of chicken, skin removed

1/2 cup water

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Grated zest* of 1/2 lemon

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Place the potatoes, carrots and onions in a baking pan large enough to hold the chicken in 1 layer. Put the chicken pieces on top of the vegetables.

Mix the water with the thyme, salt, pepper, lemon zest and lemon juice. Pour it over the chicken and vegetables.

Spoon any juices in the pan over the chicken once or twice during baking.

Bake for one hour or until the chicken is browned and tender and the vegetables are tender. Serves 6

*Tidbits for lemon zest:

Lemon and orange zest, the yellow and orange outer part of the skins, add flavor to foods. To remove the zest, rinse the lemon or orange under cold water and dry it. Then scrape the zest with a small grater or a small sharp knife.

 

Berry Buckle

8 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen

1 cup flour

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 egg

5 tablespoons oil, preferably canola or olive

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

Place the fruit in an even layer in an 8×8-inch baking pan.

Stir the flour, sugar and baking powder together with the egg until it becomes crumbly. Sprinkle it over the berries.

Drizzle the oil over the crumbs as evenly as possible. It’s ok to miss a few spots.

Bake the Buckle until bubbly and golden brown, about 30-40 minutes. Serve warm or cold.

The Buckle can be prepared early in the day and reheated before serving in a warm oven.

Tidbits:

Defrost foods in the refrigerator and not on the counter top.

Store leftover foods in the refrigerator as soon as possible.

Taste foods while cooking, but no double-dipping with the tasting spoon.