To prepare a restaurant-quality dish in one hour is way beyond my culinary skill level. I'm not saying I can't cook: I just can't plan a dish, gather the ingredients, and organize my time in order to get something from scratch onto the table in a short period of time.
And yet, I did manage to join two other parents and prepare a lunch for a contest on CBC Radio One's afternoon show, All In A Day.
Earlier last week, listeners were asked to submit menus for school lunches that would be child-friendly: that is, allergy-free and healthy. When the top-three menus were selected, the folks at CBC wanted to know how easy these menus were to prepare, how readily available the ingredients were, and most importantly, how these food items tasted.
So host Alan Neal put out the call to parents to make these meals and present them on the show. The judges would be those parents' children. Based on feedback from the parents—the ease at which the meals were put together and the practicality of making them—and the kids—whether they would actually eat this food if they found it in their lunch bags—a winner was found.
I was one of the parents chosen to prepare a menu and I selected my youngest daughter as the judge.
Here's what I had to make:
- Butternut squash and lentil soup, served with rice crackers.
- Sunny oat & honey bites.
- Sweet-potato hummus with baby carrots and cucumber slices.
The brown-rice syrup was also a challenge. I finally found it at Rainbow Foods, but it wasn't cheap. However, the label said I could use it in place of honey, so I figured it wouldn't take long to go through. Not with my sweet-toothed young'uns.
For prep time, I found that the butternut squash took the longest to prepare, and if I were to do it again, I would prep it differently. The recipe called for you to peel and cube the squash, but because it was going to cook in vegetable stock before being whizzed in a blender, I would have roasted the squash in the oven before scooping it out of its skin and adding it to the broth. The squash could have been cooking in the oven while I was working on the hummus. Or the oat bites.
I started working on the menu items at 10:00. By 1:30, I was pouring a serving of the soup into thermoses to take to the studio. For me, while the items I made were tasty (my wife, eldest daughter, and I loved the soup), I would never prepare them together again. I would make up a batch of the soup on a weekend and warm up enough for a lunch during the week. The hummus didn't take too long, but it did take more time than I would have to prepare a lunch, so again, it would have to be made in advance.
The bites were good, but they are a sticky proposition, and I don't think I would make them again.
But the ultimate judges of the meals were the kids, who didn't get to taste any of the three meals until we went live, on air.
The folks at CBC Radio are uber-organized, and the dishes were laid out, warm, and ready for the kids. The parents sat around the table with our host, while the kids stood at another table. The producer, Susan Burgess, lined up the correct foods for each menu, and held out a microphone to get each child's opinion of the meal.
The kids were great, giving their honest opinion about each meal, though, knowing my daughter, I suspected they were a bit nervous. While my daughter ate the rice from one meal, she indicated to me (by mouthing the words) that it was too spicy, yet she didn't tell that to the listeners when the microphone was placed in front of her. She merely said that she would give that meal a 1 out of 10.
Alan Neal is a true professional, and also a very kind person. He was sure to address the children as well as the adults when he arrived to start the show, he was fully engaged, and he came out of the studio after the segment, during the news break, to thank us again for coming onto the show.
While it was a lot of fun to be on the show, I don't think I would do it again if given the opportunity. That is, I wouldn't cook for a radio show. I wouldn't cook for a contest. Because I'm a slow chef. I do much better with smaller meals. My wife could have probably prepared the items in half the time.
But I would go on the show again. Definitely to talk about my book. Maybe to be a judge in a contest.
If you're interested, here are the recipes for the meal items I made:
Butternut squash and lentil soup
- 4-6 cups peeled and cubed butternut squash
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
- 2 tbsp coconut oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1/2 cup sprouted red lentils
- 1 tsp ground cumin seeds
- 2 tsp ground coriander seeds
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 2-3 cups veggie stock
- 1 cup coconut milk
- Heat coconut oil and add onions and spices and sauté until golden
- Add the stock and butternut squash
- Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Simmer for 15-20 minutes.
- Add sprouted lentils and simmer for 10-15 minutes until lentils are tender but not overcooked
- Add salt and optional coconut milk. Mash with hand held blender or potato masher.
Sunny Oat and Honey Bites
- 2 cups gluten free rolled oats
- 1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
- 1/2 cup shredded coconut
- 1/2 cup raisins or dried cranberries
- 2 tbsp raw sunflower seeds
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 cup sunflower seed butter
- 1/3 cup honey
- 2 tbsp brown rice syrup
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Grind 1/2 cup coconut and 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds in food processor until powdery. Transfer to a medium bowl, set aside.
- Combine remaining 2 cups oats, remaining 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds, raisins, sunflower seeds and cinnamon in a large bowl.
- Stir in almond butter, honey, brown rice syrup and vanilla until soft dough forms.
- Moisten hands, and roll dough into 1-inch balls. Coat balls in coconut-pumpkin seed powder. Place in freezer 20 minutes to set, then serve or store in the fridge. Enjoy!
Oh-So-Sweet Potato Hummus
- 1 cup chickpeas, cooked and drained
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup cooked sweet potato
- 2 tbsp tahini
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp garlic, minced (optional)
- 1 tsp cumin (optional)
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- Blend all ingredients, except sweet potato
- Add the sweet potato and blend until smooth
- Serve on crackers, bread or with vegetables.