Katie Lowman + Kitchen Possible

Katie Lowman

I am so excited to welcome my guest Katie Lowman to the blog today! Katie is the founder of Kitchen Possible, a non-profit that builds empowered mindsets in kids through cooking. Kitchen Possible offers weekly cooking classes to kids (aged 8-12) in low-income Chicago neighborhoods. Over an 8-week session, kids use cooking to experience the benefits of patience, setting goals, following a plan, asking for help, and course correcting when things don’t go as planned.

Katie started Kitchen Possible in 2017, but it had been on her mind for several years before that. She realized that, for herself, cooking was a way to feel capable and in control. This led to the initial idea for Kitchen Possible. She discovered that kids in underserved communities are “less likely to believe that they have control over what happens in their life.” Katie thought that these children might be able to benefit from the the accomplishment and power that she felt from completing recipes as a kid. She tells me, “The idea behind Kitchen Possible is that we could use cooking to show kids how powerful they are–that when they set a goal, follow a plan, and follow it through (what we do every time we cook something), they can make amazing things happen.”

Katie’s exposure to a variety of foods started when she was young, in an unexpected way. “Growing up, I was a really competitive BMX racer, which gave me some interesting opportunities to travel the country and eat lots of different regional foods as a kid,” she tells me. “My parents always tried their best to expose me to lots of interesting foods. They insisted I at least TRY everything, and I’m really thankful for that today.” On top of her national travels, her dad began teaching her to cook when she was only 5 or 6.

Katie and Dad.jpg(Katie and her dad)

One recipe that she often made with her dad, and now teaches the kids at Kitchen Possible, is a simple barbecue sauce. “It’s actually the first food I learned to really make on my own, and it’s the thing that made me fall in love with cooking,” she says. “It made me feel so powerful at that age, being able to combine a handful of ingredients and turn them into something delicious,” and this is exactly the feeling she hopes her organization will stir up in a new generation of youngsters. She wants them not only to make something, but to make something that’s really theirs, which makes this recipe ideal. “It’s such a good recipe for them to start to learn to own their flavor preferences. It’s super adjustable, and they can really turn it into something they love, no matter what kind of flavors they like best.” That kind of flexibility is good for adults too, as Katie herself can vouch. “I usually start here, and depending what I’m using the sauce for, or what I’m feeling that day, I might add something else. You can add a couple of chipotle peppers or some cayenne pepper, some fresh or frozen fruit, or more mustard for extra tang. I’ve even added some instant espresso for something a bit more complex.”

Barbecue Sauce

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Simple Barbecue Sauce

Ingredients:
Olive oil
1/2 medium yellow onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cans tomato sauce, 28 oz. total
2 tbsp white vinegar
1 tbsp, plus 1 tsp Worchestershire sauce
Several pinches of black pepper
1/4 cup, plus 1 tbsp brown sugar
3 tbsp molasses
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
1 tbsp yellow mustard
1/4 tsp celery seed

Instructions: 

Heat large pot over medium-high heat, adding a bit of olive oil to your pot. Sauté onion until soft, about 5 minutes.

Add garlic, and cook for another 2 minutes.

Add all ingredients to the pot. Simmer on medium heat for 20-25 minutes, until the sauce is thick and flavorful.

If the sauce gets too thick, thin with a bit of water. Adjust sweetness and spice as it simmers.

Blend with immersion blender until smooth.

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Katie tells me that the most fulfilling part of her work is the way the kids respond to their adventures in the kitchen. “I love watching them cook with such focus and intensity, and then seeing their faces light up when their food starts to come together. You can literally watch a kid go from thinking they might not be able to do something to realizing they totally can. It is so cool to see them experience the same sense of confidence and control that I felt, and still feel, when cooking,” she says.

The students show their confidence not only by their demeanor but by their desire to share their work. There’s an “amazing thing that happens at the end of each class,” says Katie. “While the kids are gobbling down their food excitedly, many of them intentionally save a very small portion, even just a few forkfuls. They love to bring a few bites home for mom or dad to try. It fills me with so much joy to see them so proud of what they’ve made that they want to share it with someone else. Last week, a kid brought a tiny portion of chicken stir-fry to me and asked if I could wrap it up for him. He said he’d be visiting his cousins the next day and really wanted them to try it. My heart just explodes over this stuff!”

Katie’s organization also checks in with the parents to track the kids’ behavior outside of class. “Ninety-one percent of KP parents have seen an increase in their child’s confidence since beginning the program. And 86% say their child is more willing to take on new challenges,” she reports. “I’m so proud of the results we’ve seen.”

In the coming year, Kitchen Possible has some exciting things on the horizon. Right now, the program is operating in East Garfield Park and Pilsen. However, Katie and her team are working to bring the program to a third (as of now, secret) neighborhood this summer! Eventually, Katie hopes to expand the program even further. She tells me, “With our new location this summer, we’ll have the opportunity to really expand our impact, but we’re not stopping there!”

Kitchen Possible is also gearing up for their May Menu Fundraiser, which partners KP “with some of Chicago’s best restaurants to raise money for our upcoming summer classes. Each participating restaurant will donate a portion of proceeds from a popular menu item to KP. It’s a really cool opportunity for Chicago’s food lovers to come out and support an important cause, while enjoying a delicious meal.” Stay tuned to find out where you can get a bite of this yourself!

If you’re interested, you can learn more about Kitchen Possible at their website, or follow them on Instagram

Thanks to Katie for sharing Kitchen Possible’s story and her family recipe! Keep up the great work!

First two photographs provided by Katie Lowman.

National Blonde Brownie Day + Brown Butter Blondies

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Blondies, or blonde brownies, always remind me of school lunch. Don’t get me wrong–that’s a good thing. School lunch memories for me are surprisingly positive. I loved the weird, sort of stale-tasting pizza; I still have dreams about something they served in our cafeteria called “chicken hot rodders” (side note: if anyone knows what this is, or where I can find it, let me know–think chicken tender, but in the shape of a hot dog, and on a hot dog bun–I assume they’ve been outlawed for being the most unhealthy thing ever, which is probably why I love them so much); and my final cafeteria favorite, blondies! Blondies were not something my mom ever made at home. We had a very strict chocolate-only brownie rule in our house, and I was pretty meh about chocolate when I was little. But at school, blondies were chewy, buttery, and always a stark contrast to whatever the steamed vegetable was for the day! I loved them.

Today is National Blonde Brownie Day. I can find no information on how this day got started, or if it’s even a real day at all. And I think we can all agree that a National Blonde Brownie Day is a bit much, but I’m taking the opportunity anyway to write a little about one of my favorite desserts.

If you are a brownie lover, you might think: Who even cares about blondies, when there are brownies in the world? Brownies hold a special place in the hearts of so many, but you might be surprised to learn that blondies actually predate brownies.

In the 1896, in the Fannie Farmer Boston Cooking School Cookbook (the cookbook that is responsible for the standardization of measurement in baking), there is a recipe for a “brownie” that calls for sugar, flour, and butter, based on earlier recipes for a dessert bar that resembled gingerbread, minus the spices. No mention of chocolate. The original “brownie” was, in fact, what we recognize today as a blondie, and would have been flavored with molasses. Brown, for sure, but not the beautiful brown-black that we recognize as a chocolate brownie today.

The story the chocolate brownie is a little roundabout. In 1893, Bertha Palmer, a socialite and the President of the Board of Lady Managers of the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, called on the chef at the Palmer House Hotel, owned by her husband, to make a chocolate cake that was could easily be handled by women at the fair without getting their hands and gloves dirty. The unleavened chocolate cake created by the chef would have closely resembled the modern-day brownie, but it wouldn’t be called a brownie until after the turn of the century, and there does not seem to be any record of this original recipe today. (This was actually one of the first things I ever wrote about on this blog. If you’re interested in learning more about Bertha Palmer and the first brownie, you can find that post here.)

duncan hines

By the early 1900’s, though, brownie recipes containing chocolate began to be published. Fannie Farmer is often credited with the first chocolate brownie recipe in 1906, after she updated her cookbook from the 1890’s. However, a recipe from two years earlier has been found, calling for the addition of chocolate. Once chocolate was in the mix, brownies, unsurprisingly, were a hit, and the humble molasses brownie became a somewhat distant memory. Then, around the 1940’s, a dessert bar showed up containing brown sugar instead of just molasses, which was renamed a “blonde brownie.” The earliest entry I’ve seen in a newspaper for a blonde brownie was in 1941. The blonde brownie increased in popularity over the years and, in 1956, traveling food critic and cake mix king, Duncan Hines, released boxed mixes of both brownies and “blond brownies.” The ad above announces their release in the Janesville Daily Gazette from March 15, 1956.

So, I can’t answer the question of which is better, blondie or brownie, but if you’re ever in a heated argument with someone about it, at least you know a little history. The blondie recipe below is not Fannie Farmer’s or Duncan Hines’, but my own version using brown butter, which makes a great party treat–even if it’s just you at the party.

brown butter blondies

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Brown Butter Blondies
Makes 9 2.5-in blondie squares, or 36 two-bite pieces. 

Ingredients:
1 1/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp salt
12 tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
2 eggs
4 tsp vanilla extract
Powdered sugar, for dusting, optional

Instructions:

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line an 8 x 8-inch pan with two pieces of parchment paper, crisscrossed over one another. Spray lightly with cooking spray.

In a small bowl, combine flour, baking soda, cornstarch, and salt. Set aside.

Add butter to a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the butter turns light brown in color, begins to smell slightly nutty, and ceases to sizzle and pop. Pour into a large, heat-safe bowl to cool slightly.

Add both sugars to the melted brown butter and stir to combine. Stir in the eggs and then the vanilla.

Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, and mix with a wooden spoon until just combined. Pour into the prepared pan.

Bake for 20-25 minutes. You can test by using a toothpick inserted into the middle. It is done when it comes out with damp crumbs, but not wet streaks. Do not overcook.

Allow to cool for at least 45 minutes. Dust with powdered sugar, cut, and serve.

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If you want to add mix-ins, heck yeah, you can do that! Sprinkles, white chocolate chips, nuts, those all sound good! Me? I’m a blondie purist, save for a dusting of powdered sugar, but honestly, these guys don’t need the cover up. They are rich, chewy, slightly nutty from the browned butter, and not overly sweet. And, weirdly, quite important for me: NOT TOO TALL! I kind of like my blondies hovering around a centimeter in height, whereas I prefer a good solid inch square for brownies. Personal preference, probably influenced by that school cafeteria dessert so long ago.

I hope you enjoy these as much as I do!

Abra Berens + Chicken in Lemon Cream Sauce

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After a longer-than-I-intended-hiatus, we’re back at it, and I’m beyond excited to welcome my guest today, Abra Berens! If you live in Chicago, and are even a little familiar with the Chicago food scene, you may recognize her name. For several years, Abra was the chef at Stock Cafe, the restaurant within Local Foods, a Chicago store that showcases goods and produce from several local vendors. She is now the chef at Granor Farm, an organic farm in southwestern Michigan, where she creates dining experiences based on crops grown at the farm.

Abra’s career in food started with a family influence. “My dad grew up in a pickle farming family,” she told me, “but he and my mom were both anesthesiologists. When I was young we were still farming while my parents were working in hospitals. I’ve worked in restaurants since I was 16 mostly because I didn’t want to work on our family farm any more! And it just evolved from there. I never intended to work in food my whole life, but I also never wanted to leave it.” 

After attending school in Ann Arbor, she worked there for several years at Zingerman’s Deli. “It was my time at Zingerman’s where I started to see that food touched so many aspects of people’s lives, from the producers to the customers to my co-workers.” Working in food began to make a lot of sense to her. “Zingerman’s connected me to Ballymaloe, where I went to cooking school.”

After six years in Ann Arbor, Abra moved to Chicago, where her husband was born. But eventually, the couple decided they wanted a more rural life, and Abra wanted to get back to cooking directly from a farm. But they didn’t want to go too far from Chicago, so Granor Farm in Three Oaks, Michigan, was “the perfect solution to all of those needs.”

Her work at Granor Farm is important to her, because she loves connecting people to their food. “I feel incredibly lucky to have grown up with a large garden, animals, and seeing industrial production of food,” she says. But many people live lives distant from that experience. “We are facing huge hurdles in terms of the sustainability of American agriculture–farmer shortages, soil health, farm income, food access and security. These things will only get better if our populace takes a real interest in food and agriculture. Thankfully, food is delicious and we can all be a part of the change simply by eating! Where that food comes from speaks to the people who are part of that food chain.” In her work at Granor, she brings the food chain, and the realities of farm life, closer to her guests. “You can’t respect the product without knowing something about the people who grow it–their successes and their hurdles. If we want to have a successful food system, we need to understand what that means to the people doing the growing. Similarly, people are often let down by the quality of their food. By knowing even a little about how it grows and seasonality, one is more likely to find food that they are excited about that tastes great and lasts after you get it home.”

She told me that the most fulfilling part of her work right now “is cooking food that is so closely linked to the ground and farmers who grew it.” The menus she creates for Granor begin in seasonality. “Sometimes that list is the most special items that we want to highlight. Sometimes it is what we have a lot of and need to use up. No matter the dish, it always has a direct connection to how we farm and what we want people to know about our plot of land and work.”

While Abra works hard at Granor, she couldn’t do it without a team that includes many hardworking men and women. But she particularly finds Granor to be an amazing place to work as a woman. In fact, as she told me, PureWow magazine recently named Granor one of America’s Best Restaurants Run By Women. “Granor’s Farm Manager is Katie Burdett, who has really revolutionized our farm,” Abra said. “And cooking and growing have long been women’s work, but there are serious hurdles to women running businesses in those two industries. We are lucky at Granor Farm to be able (with the unending support of the owners of the farm) to provide a space for women to come and work and learn and hopefully leave with the tools to carve out their own space in this industry.”

As with every feature post, I asked Abra to share a family recipe that has some importance for her. She sent her mothers recipe for chicken in lemon cream sauce. “My mom was a tremendous cook,” she said. “I feel so fortunate that she put so much energy into making delicious and creative meals regularly. I also feel so lucky that it was over food that we connected with each other as a family. It gave me a tremendous amount of reverence for the community and bonds that sharing a meal creates.”

Abra's Mother

This particular recipe “was an arrow in my mom’s dinner quiver. She took a cooking class from Le Cordon Blue in Grand Rapids once and this is the only thing any of us remember her making post class. One day we didn’t make this and the next we did, and now it is a family classic.” 

As good as it is, its ease of preparation is part of the appeal. “It was always a special occasion dinner because of the last minute nature of the sauce, often for dinner parties or when my sisters and I would come home from college. I’ve learned since that the sauce can hold fine warm and so doesn’t need to pull the cook away from the party–simply hold the cooked chicken in a warm oven, make the sauce, and then reheat and thin with a bit more cream (if needed) just before serving.” She added, “I love it because it was how I learned to make a pan sauce, and it goes with any sort of vegetables, be it spring, summer, fall, or winter. So this recipe bridges how I learned to cook (meat and cream focused) and how I cook now (just enough meat and cream to ground a big plate of vegetables).” 

Chicken w Lemon Cream

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Chicken Breasts in Lemon Cream Sauce

Ingredients:
6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup white wine
1 lemon (for zest and juice)
1 cup heavy cream
Salt, to taste

Instructions:

Pound the chicken breasts until thin. 

Season liberally with salt and pepper. 

Heat the butter and olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat until hot. 

Pat the chicken breasts dry and pan fry until cooked through on one side (about 5 minutes). Flip and cook the other side (about 4 minutes). 

Remove the chicken breasts to a serving platter and tent with tinfoil to keep warm.

Add the white wine to the pan to deglaze (scraping up any browned meaty bits) and allow to reduce until almost dry (about 2-3 minutes).

Add the cream and a big pinch of salt and cook until bubbling.

Add the lemon zest and juice, and return to a bubble.

Remove from heat. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.

Just before serving, pour the cream sauce over the chicken and serve. 

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Abra told me there are some big and exciting things happening for her soon. “We’ve added several months to our dinner series at Granor Farm–now from May through February. Farm dinners and local agriculture don’t stop after first frost. I’m so excited that we are going to be able to showcase produce from our farm through the dead of winter.” Second, her first cookbook, Ruffage, is coming out in March of 2019! “The premise for the book is that each chapter focuses on a vegetable: what to look for at the market, how to store, and other notes. Then there are several different preparation techniques (like for asparagus raw, roasted, and grilled) and a base recipe for that. After the recipe there are three variations to show how you can prep the veg the same way and then vary the ‘accessory’ flavors to make a whole new dish. The idea is to give readers the tools to make a myriad of dishes by selecting great produce and mastering a few techniques.” Ruffage will be available at all national bookstores and on Amazon.com in March. 

If you want to find out more about Abra’s work, you can visit her website, or follow her on Instagram or Twitter @abraberens. If you’re interested in making reservations for a Granor Farm dinner, you can do that here.

Abra, thank you so much for sharing your story with me! I can’t wait to see what you have coming up in the future!

 

First two photographs provided by Abra Berens.