Youngsters cook up winning recipes

A recipe for fresh tomatoes from her aunt's garden stuffed with homemade hummus was a winner for Jourdann Latney, 12, of Wilmington. She dreams of owning a restaurant.
A recipe for fresh tomatoes from her aunt's garden stuffed with homemade hummus was a winner for Jourdann Latney, 12, of Wilmington. She dreams of owning a restaurant.

3 area kids conquer the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge.

Posted: August 16, 2012

Fast-food nation, meet three kids who defy your stereotypes: Evan Clark of Bala Cynwyd, Tarteel (Teela) Idais of Mount Laurel, and Jourdann Latney of Wilmington, who are 9, 10, and 12 respectively.

They know where their food comes from. And they love to cook. "It's fun," says Evan, with a shrug that signals he's done explaining.

Evan, Teela, and Jourdann are the regional winners of the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge, sponsored by Epicurious magazine in partnership with Michelle Obama's antiobesity Let's Move! initiative.

There are 54 winners altogether - one per state plus three territories and the District of Columbia - culled from a total of 1,200 recipes for "delicious, nutritious lunches" submitted by kids 8 to 12.

On Monday, the winners head to the White House for a luncheon with the first lady. Already, the local trio know what they'll say to her, if given the chance.

Evan: "I like cooking."

Teela: "You're very lucky. You have a dog. I really want a dog."

Jourdann: "Thank you for this opportunity and I really look up to you."

All three look up to the celebrity chefs in their lives - namely, Mom.

Runner-up: the Food Network.

Evan Clark's winning combo of falafel wrap, served with apple, carrot, and cranberry slaw, illustrates the type of healthy meals he makes with his mother, Jami Fisher. She's of Italian descent and makes just about everything from scratch, including ricotta cheese, a skill she's teaching Evan.

"Cooking your own food always tastes better," he says.

His signature dishes include a few of his own creations, such as orecchiette pasta with garlic, lemon zest, rosemary, and pecorino and mascarpone cheese.

"I just made it up," he says, shrugging again.

Here's another: dessert pizza with chocolate shortbread dough, melted chocolate, homemade cookies-and-cream ice cream, from-scratch raspberry sauce, real whipped cream, and shaved white chocolate.

"Not for the faint of heart," Fisher says.

Evan, a Cynwyd School fourth grader, makes regular pizza, too, using no-knead dough, Trader Joe's mozzarella, hot roasted peppers, and canned whole tomatoes. But not just any can.

"I like Cento's San Marzano," he says.

Like his mother, Evan is super-organized in the kitchen. Today, the falafel's chickpea mix is in one bowl, sauce in another; the slaw's apples and carrots are chopped and grated, a bag of Craisins standing in for cranberries.

As he panfries the falafel, we ask Evan whether he's thinking of a cooking career. This prompts yet another declaration: "No. I want to be a baseball player."

The idea for a kids' recipe contest came from Tanya Steel, Epicurious magazine editor and coauthor of Real Food for Healthy Kids.

"Healthy eating has been a real professional and personal passion of mine for years now," says Steel, the mother of 14-year-old twin boys.

(And yes, they cook.)

Of the 1,200 contest entries, 40 percent came from boys, 60 percent from girls.

Recipes were eliminated if they sounded too rudimentary, professional, weird, or cribbed, if they didn't include all of the required food groups (fruit, veggies, whole grains, protein, and low-fat dairy) or if they clearly were the work of a parent.

The 108 finalists were evaluated for such things as nutritional value, taste, creativity, and affordability. The point, Steel says, was to "spark interest and debate for kids and parents about the importance of healthy eating and how easy it really is."

Teela, a fifth grader at Hartford Elementary School in Mount Laurel, entered a meal of salmon, rice, broccoli, and fruit smoothie.

"I like putting all the ingredients in, tasting it, cutting stuff, seeing if you can add something else. I don't follow a recipe," she says.

Like the other winners, Teela has been shadowing Mom, Adriana Gurra, in the kitchen since she was a toddler. Back then, she and her sister Tasneem (Tesi) Gurra, now 8, also used to don aprons and mimic TV chefs in the kitchen while their parents slept.

"We'd take random foods like eggs and garlic and throw it all in the sink when we were done," says Tesi, who likes to bake cupcakes and brownies.

As a gymnast and dancer, Teela understands the correlation between diet and fitness. But she's no food fanatic; she'll indulge in a chicken nugget now and then.

Gurra is "careful not to put tough restrictions" on what Teela and her sister eat. (There's also brother Aidan, born July 23.) "Moderation is the key," she says.

Which prompts a mention of someone everyone at school calls "the healthy girl." "She's never even tried a Dorito," says an astonished Teela, who answers "maybe" when asked if she'd like a career in food.

"What I really want to do is go to a good college and go to the Olympics as a gymnast," she explains.

Jourdann Latney, a seventh grader at Stanton Middle School in Wilmington, has been stirring and mixing with Mom since age 4. Flying solo, she makes samosas, Jamaican jerk chicken eggrolls, and cakes and cookies for fund-raisers at her dance school.

"She finds a recipe, tells me what ingredients she needs, we go to the store, and she buys them," says her mother, Brande Latney.

Jourdann's contest recipe calls for fresh tomatoes from her aunt's garden stuffed with homemade hummus.

"It turned out really good," says Jourdann, who is inspired by the Food Network's Chopped, which challenges chefs with mystery ingredients.

"They use ingredients that I've never seen, so I learn what they're used for and what their textures are," she says.

The Latney family diet wasn't always healthy. "We used to drink sugar sodas and eat a lot of steak and fast food," says Jourdann, a straight-A student who enjoys math.

But two years ago, Brande Latney says she had an epiphany sparked by her daughter's commitment to 15 hours of dance class a week. "She was so concerned about what she was putting into her body," Mom recalls, "so I said, 'You know what? We need to eat better.' "

Now they do.

Of the three regional winners, Jourdann alone dreams of owning her own restaurant. "I know it's hard work," she says.

For this kid, that should be no problem at all.

The Golden Plate

Makes 4 servings

For salmon:

1 pound salmon, cut into fillets

1 tablespoon olive oil or melted butter

(For grilled salmon, 1/3 cup barbecue sauce and 1 green onion, chopped)

For rice:

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 cup rice

2 cups water

1/2 teaspoon salt (optional) to taste

For broccoli:

11/2 cups broccoli

1/2 teaspoon olive oil

Garlic seasoning

For smoothie:

11/2 cups blueberries

11/2 cups bananas

1/2 cup cold milk

3 to 4 ice cubes

1. Bake, broil, or grill the salmon. To bake, preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place fillets on a greased baking dish. Brush with melted butter or oil. Bake for at least 20 minutes. (To broil, preheat the broiler. Place fillets on greased broiler rack and brush with butter or oil. Broil 4 inches from heat about 6 minutes a side. To grill, preheat greased grill to medium high heat. Mix onions and barbecue sauce until well blended. Grill salmon 4 minutes. Flip. Brush generously with sauce mixture. Continue grilling 2 to 4 minutes on other side.)

2. To cook the rice, heat 2 teaspoons olive oil. Add chopped onions and stir until golden. Add 1 cup rice. Stir over medium heat. Add 2 cups hot water and salt, and let simmer on low heat until fully cooked, about 15 to 20 minutes.

5. To make broccoli, take 11/2 cups fresh broccoli and sprinkle with garlic seasoning. Add to a pan with a sprinkling of oil and fry on low heat.

6. To make the smoothie: Combine all smoothie ingredients in a blender. Blend until smooth. Pour into cup.

- From Tarteel Idais of Mount Laurel Per serving: 555 calories, 32 grams protein, 72 grams carbohydrates, 21 grams sugar, 16 grams fat, 74 milligrams cholesterol, 331 milligrams sodium, 5 grams dietary fiber.

Tomatoes Stuffed With Hummus

Makes 2 servings

To make hummus:

1 16-ounce can chickpeas

2 generous tablespoons lemon juice

Salt to taste

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

Pinch of red pepper flakes

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

To make stuffed tomatoes:

4 medium tomatoes

3/4 cup hummus

Small handful of fresh mint


1. To make the hummus, put chickpeas in blender with lemon juice, salt, garlic powder, red pepper flakes, and olive oil and blend. Use a sprinkle of water if hummus is too stiff. The consistency should be smooth and soft like thick pancake batter.

2. Cut tomatoes in half crosswise, scooping out pulp as much as possible. With a tiny spoon, fill tomatoes with hummus and garnish with 1 or 2 fresh mint leaves.

3. Jourdann's serving suggestion: Serve with 1/2 cup sliced and peeled    cucumbers and 1 cup red seedless grapes or 1 cup sliced oranges, and seltzer or water to drink.

- From Jourdann Latney of Wilmington Per serving: 262 calories, 11 grams protein, 39 grams carbohydrates, 19 grams sugar, 10 grams fat, no cholesterol, 373 milligrams sodium, 10 grams dietary fiber.

Falafel Wrap With Tahini Sauce and Apple-Carrot Slaw

Makes 2 to 4 servings

For falafel patties:

1 15-ounce can of chickpeas

1 small red onion, finely


2 garlic cloves, finely


1/4 cup of fresh cilantro,


2 tablespoons of sesame


1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon coriander

1 teaspoon baking powder

2 tablespoons flour, if


1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Kosher salt to taste

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 multigrain tortillas

For the topping:

Tomatoes, sliced

Arugula (or fresh baby


1 medium carrot, shredded

Fresh cilantro (optional)

For tahini sauce:

1/4 cup tahini

1/4 cup plain, nonfat yogurt

   (try to get one without

   stabilizers or gums


1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 pinch of kosher salt

1 garlic clove, pressed

1/2 teaspoon cumin

For slaw:

1 apple

1 carrot

2 tablespoons of yogurt

2 teaspoons of honey

1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon

1. Rinse and drain the garbanzo beans and mash with a fork. Add the rest of the ingredients (to cayenne pepper) and mix well. If the mix is too wet or dry, adjust with flour and/or water, 1 teaspoon at a time. Season with salt to taste.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium frying pan. Form the mixture into four patties and fry in olive oil over medium-high heat for about 2 to 3 minutes per side. They can be made smaller to fit better into the wrap. To make smaller patties, divide the mixture into 8 equal portions. The patties are somewhat delicate, so turn carefully.

3. Assemble the wrap by cutting the patties in half (or use the smaller portion). Add the tomatoes, arugula, shredded carrots, cilantro, and some tahini sauce (see below.) Roll up the wrap and slice in half for easier eating. For school lunch, wrap the sandwich in waxed paper or foil.

4. To make the tahini sauce: Make the sauce by combining the tahini paste, lemon juice, yogurt, garlic and cumin in a bowl and stirring to combine.

5. To make slaw: Shred the carrots and apples and mix in a bowl with yogurt, honey, and cinnamon. Eat as is, or serve atop arugula.

- From Evan Clark of Bala Cynwyd Per serving (based on 4): 496 calories, 15 grams protein, 61 grams carbohydrates, 14 grams sugar, 24 grams fat, 2 milligrams cholesterol, 677 milligrams sodium, 13 grams dietary fiber.

Contact Virginia A. Smith at 215-854-5720 or

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