Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Five Quick Questions with Chef Miles McMath of St. Jude

We were lucky enough to score an interview with one of our favorite chefs, Miles McMath of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital here in Memphis, Tennessee. He has a unique mission in the kitchen: to help the kids of St. Jude heal by providing them and their families nourishing food free of charge. What he and his amazing staff do on a daily basis is so important. Miles is one of the big reasons why I run the Memphis Marathon as a St. Jude Hero. Our friends and readers have been so kind; we have already busted down our $2,500 goal and raised almost $3,500 for the kids of St. Jude, but why stop there?

The Chubby Vegetarian: You have a lot of experience in using diet to promote the heath and recovery of the kids of St. Jude. Knowing what you know, what advice can you give the rest of us about this connection and how it pertains to our own health? 

Miles McMath: Eat real food. That has been my primary approach here and at home.  
Whether you’re shopping for groceries or cooking your meals, get your kids involved. Learn to read nutritional labels and teach this to your kids when you’re shopping. Compare and contrast the difference in nutritional content between products (i.e., potato chips and noodles) and help them select the healthiest meals and snacks for their lunch boxes. The key is to also give them a bit of freedom to choose which food products they want. If they select something that is unhealthy, gently remind them of the nutritional content and advise them that they should only eat them occasionally as a treat. When cooking, show them what really goes into the foods they eat and let them help out by ‘decorating’ and garnishing the food, stirring the soup, or setting the table. This encourages kids to be proactive at home and understand about nutritious foods, and it promotes family togetherness.  

This has been a huge success here at St. Jude.  Most of our menus are “Build Your Own.”  This allows kids to be in control of their choices.   Rather than just give a child broccoli, ask them, Which one would you like: broccoli, cauliflower, or kale? 

Have conversations about food. We sit down and discuss likes and dislikes with the kids at St. Jude. This allows us to have an end result that we are both happy with and will best benefit their recovery.

TCV: Right now, what's your current favorite fall dish to make at home for your family? 

MM: Anything that is currently growing in the garden.  Quick saut├ęs such as kale, broccoli or collards with nothing more than a little salt and a splash of vinegar. We’ve also been eating a lot of brown popcorn rice from Cache River Rice in Arkansas.  The kids love it because it smells just like fresh popped popcorn.

TCV: Your pickle bars at local events are already legendary! Would you be willing to share your pickling recipe with our readers? 

MM: Most of our pickles are quick pickles or “Ice Box” pickles (recipe follows).  It's really simple: the fresher the produce, the better the final product.  Just about anything can be quick-pickled. Cucumbers are the most common choice, but any nice, crisp vegetable will do: green beans, cauliflower, carrots, shallots, onions, asparagus — they all make terrific pickles.

Because there are so many different and subtle variations in pickle preparations, everything from the dilution of the vinegar to the inclusion or not of sugar to the selection of flavoring spices, we recommend starting with a basic vinegar-water-salt-sweetener ratio. I have included the ratio that we use here at St. Jude.

 TCV: The St. Jude garden has nearly 60 raised beds and a high tunnel, and the fact that y'all grow much of your own food is so cool. What ingredient has got your attention right now, and what are you doing with it? 

MM: Right now we are finishing up on tomatoes and peppers.  We are pickling and frying the green tomatoes. The peppers are small due to the cold weather, so we are stuffing them and making pepper jelly.  We're still getting a lot of fresh herbs, and we use those daily. Johnny, a chef here from Cambodia, uses the pepper and tomato tops in Asian dishes.  This creates incredible flavors. We are also focusing on building up our compost for next year and keeping our worms producing through the winter.

TCV: On average, St. Jude treats about 7,800 active patients a year. Not one of them pays for treatment -- or even a meal. How important are the amounts that individual donors can give in terms of providing for this?   

MM: Events like the St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend are important because St. Jude Heroes are a special group of race participants who raise additional funds for the hospital by obtaining pledges from friends and family. Amazingly, it costs $1.8 million each day to run the hospital, and 75 percent of those funds come from public contributions.

St. Jude Basic Pickling Recipe
  1. Make the brine: The main ingredient in pickle brine is vinegar. White vinegar is most common, but you can also use cider vinegar, wine vinegar, pretty much anything except balsamic, which is too syrupy and would overpower your pickles. Some recipes call for straight vinegar; others dilute it with up to 3 times its volume with water.
  2. Salt is nearly always included in the brine. It draws moisture out of the vegetables, and it encourages the growth of useful bacteria. Amounts vary, from less than a teaspoon to over a tablespoon per cup of liquid.
  3. Many recipes include sweeteners. Sugar is most common, but you'll also see brown sugar and honey. Sweeteners are most often used when vinegar is not diluted with water.

Basic Icebox Pickling Brine Ratio

1 cup vinegar - 1/2 cup water - 2 teaspoons kosher salt – sweetener to taste
  1. Combine ingredients and bring to a boil.
  2. Place vegetables in a clean, dry glass container just large enough to hold all the vegetables. Pour boiling brine over vegetables to cover completely. Cover; refrigerate at least 1 hour. Pickles will keep for about 10 days.

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