Wednesday, February 29, 2012

How to Keep a Good Thing Going

Last June, my son's elementary school joined over 300 groups in celebrating the first Flavored Milk Dayof Action. With support from the school principal and the local pediatric medical office, students were given free cartons of white milk and white bracelets imprinted with “MOO.” Our goal was to help kids make healthy choices in a positive environment. If kids mooing and drinking white milk is any indication of success, then it was a great day.

At the Lowell School, we are taking our early success and running with it. With the continued support of the school principal and pediatric office, we will be celebrating Milk Awareness Day for a second time on March 7th, 2012. But this time, it will be bigger than before:
  • Everyone loves FREE: As we had done last year, we will be giving out free white milk to all the kids during lunch
  • Accessorize: We are also giving out free white silicone wristbands with "MOO" imprinted on them
  • Make it fun: We will be giving out white milk mustaches to the students to wear after lunch
  • Make it memorable: There will be two school-wide assemblies featuring the school principal and pediatricians. The assembly will feature a demonstration on sugar consumption and why it is important to make healthy food choices.
  • Healthy partners: The school is also partnering with ChopChop Magazine, a children's cooking magazine focused on combating childhood obesity and making healthy food choices
  • Make a statement: Students will help create a giant milk carton and sign a pledge in art class. The giant milk carton and student signatures will be on display in the cafeteria
  • Share at home: Students will be sent home with an informational flyer to share with parents a week prior to Milk Day

The goal is to continue to raise awareness in a positive way, but also to prepare the community for the Massachusetts regulations that will take effect in August (changing what is on school menus, including the elimination of flavored milk in August 2013).  Massachusetts is taking steps to fight childhood obesity. And it’s a welcome change, but we think we can do better. At the Lowell school, we hope to set an example for other schools in the community and surrounding towns. Why wait when change can happen today? 

Stay tuned to find out how Milk Awareness Day turns out and our plans to keep the momentum going!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Phoenix, AZ: Home of the country's best pizza?

New York is known for their pizza. Chicago is famous for their deep-dish style. And Phoenix? Best pizza in the entire U.S. of A? According to Bon Appetit, The New York Times, Gourmet, Mario Batali and Oprah just to name a humble few, the answer is yes. So I had to find out for myself on a recent trip to Phoenix.

Chris Bianco, owner of Pizzeria Bianco has been serving up his critically-acclaimed pie since 1996. Located in Heritage Square, Pizzeria Bianco is nestled next to family-friendly spots such as the Arizona Science Center, Arizona Doll and Toy Museum and the Phoenix Family Museum. With only a handful of tables, I've read that wait-times can be ridiculous (like four hours!). Thankfully we arrived right after the lunch rush so did not have to wait to be seated.

The exposed brick and dark wood give the restaurant a cozy, casual but sophisticated vibe (read: not your hole-in-the-wall-mom-and-pop joint). I sat facing the brick oven tucked in the corner, watching staff stretch, toss and shuffle pizzas in and out of the oven. The smells were heavenly.

Our server was very friendly and promptly brought us drinks and answered all of our questions. Pizzeria Bianco's menu is small - which I welcomed as I'm terrible at making up my mind when it comes to eating out. The menu consisted of two small plates (apps), three salads, six pizzas and a handful of extras. We ended up ordering local organic greens with red wine vinaigrette, the Margherita (tomato sauce, mozzarella and fresh basil) and Wiseguy (wood roasted onion, house smoked mozzarella and fennel sausage).

The salad was perfectly dressed and the greens were crisp and fresh. It was a pretty simple salad... maybe too simple if it were not for the yummiest olives I have ever eaten.

The classic Margherita was, as my 6 year-old put it, "too good." The crust was cooked to perfection. And the ingredients were fresh and delicious. Everything was perfectly balanced. 

The Wiseguy is a white pizza. I'm usually not a fan of white pizzas, but this pie has made me a convert. Everything was cooked to perfection and there was not one topping that overpowered another.

My only complaint: it can be pricey. It only comes in one size - personal sized which is about six small slices. The price: $12-$16 for one pizza. My sister ordered anchovies on the side ($5). We got charged an extra dollar for having it on the side instead of a topping (a fair price in my book to keep those things off my plate). I guess with pizza aficionados coming from all corners of the country and proclaiming it to be the best pizza, you can charge whatever you like.

I do not claim to be one of those pizza aficionados, so really not in position to categorically proclaim it to be the best pizza in the country. I will say it was definitely the best pizza I've had so far. Or as my son put it, it was "too good."

 Pizzeria Bianco on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 13, 2012

Valentine's Day Heart-Shaped Strawberry Shortcakes

Before kids, I could take or leave Valentine’s Day. Cheesy cards, overpriced meals and a second mortgage for long-stemmed roses – no thanks. Chocolates, strawberries, champagne – yes, please! And now that I have kids, I adore homemade valentines and look forward to making special treats with my boys. And yeah, chocolates, strawberries and champagne are still up there.

So when I found out there was going to be a “Friendship Day” Party (is this a sign that Valentine’s Day is going the way of Christmas Trees?) at my son’s first-grade class, I started to search for food ideas that were delicious but not overloaded with sugar (I do like my son’s teacher after all). That’s when I found a recipe for heart-shaped strawberry shortcakes. Festive? Yes! Healthy? Yes (with some tweaks). Delicious? Oh yeah! Check out the recipe after the jump.

Strawberries in February?

I used to buy strawberries in New England only during the summer months. But after attending “Paint Boston Red with California Strawberries” event hosted by the California Strawberry Commission and MommyNiri, all my preconceptions were thrown out the window. Some quick facts*:

  • California’s unique coastal environment, western ocean exposure and moderate temperature are the perfect conditions for growing strawberries year-round 
  • All California strawberries are hand-picked for the highest quality berries, then rushed to coolers within 24 hours 
  • Flavor is influenced by growing conditions, stage of ripeness and variety. Size is not a factor in determining flavor

Heart-Shaped Strawberry Shortcakes

  • 2 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder 
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 ½ sticks cold, unsalted butter, cut into 12-14 pieces
  • 3 eggs
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 2 pints strawberries
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • Whipped cream (canned or fresh)

1.     Heat over to 350 degrees F. Using stand mixer (with paddle attachment), mix together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt on low speed until combined (10-15 seconds).
2.     Scatter butter over the top and beat on medium-low speed for 30 seconds, until butter is broken down and the mixture becomes mealy.
3.     In a small bowl, whisk together 2 eggs and cream. On low speed, pour in egg mixture all at once and beat for 10-15 seconds, until dough comes together.
4.     Dump the dough onto a floured work surface and press it out into a circle about 10 inches in diameter and 1-inch thick. Using a heart-shaped cookie cutter, cut out hearts, re-rolling scraps until dough is used up. Place them on a ungreased baking sheet several inches a part. Makes about 2 dozen hearts.
5.     In small bowl, whisk remaining egg and brush tops of dough hearts with the egg.
6.     Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until light golden brown. Let cool for 10 minutes and transfer onto a cooling rack.
7.     While shortcakes are in the oven, stem and cut strawberries. In a medium bowl, toss strawberries with lemon zest and sugar.
8.     Top each heart shortcake with whipped cream and strawberries with their syrup and enjoy!

What are your favorite strawberry recipes? Are you a fan of Valentine's Day?

*Source: California Strawberry commission. I was not compensated for this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products or services mentioned. Opinions are my own.


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