Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Newspaper column - CHILLI BANG BANG

This column appeared in the Star Phoneix today.

Whoever coined the phrase “too many cooks spoil the broth” didn’t belong to a collective kitchen. In a collective kitchen, everyone cooks together to maximize the budget and minimize the time required to put nutritious food on the table. It’s a recipe for fun and fellowship, as well as food.

Bishop Klein Collective Kitchen (l-r): Erin Babcock, Elaine Haugen, Hermeline Maurice, Kendra Thies, October Low and Mimi Marchewka

“Where else can you get a healthy lasagne that’s going to feed a family of six for $5? Actually, you get two or three lasagnes and all it costs is $5 and three hours of your time,” says Elaine Haugen, a mother of three who leads a collective kitchen at Bishop Klein Elementary School.

This month, collective kitchens are celebrating 15 years in Saskatoon. What started with two or three collective kitchens has spawned about 30 collective kitchens across the city. October Low, who is raising five children, is also a member of the Bishop Klein Collective Kitchen. “When I started, I thought it was the coolest thing to go hang out with other parents on a Sunday afternoon and cook without the kids,” she says. “It was so much fun.”

As in most collective kitchens, child care is arranged. Participants pay half the grocery bill with a matching contribution from their sponsoring agencies: Saskatoon Community Clinic, Saskatoon Health Region and CHEP Good Food Inc. Many of the collective kitchens are supported by other agencies in the city.

“We use the term ‘collective’ because the groups are very independent and they make collective decisions. So even though there’s a leader, the whole group decides what their budget is going to be and what they’re going to cook,” says Janet Phillips, the coordinator of collective kitchens at CHEP for the past 12 years.

All three moms say their children learned at an early age to eat their vegetables. “One day in the grocery store my son said, ‘Mom can we get some spinach. I’m craving spinach.’ You should have seen the heads turn in the produce aisle,” says Low, whose 11-year-old, James, loves to cook and wants to attend culinary school.

As for Haugen, she says her daughter has grown very fond of beans. “My daughter Chelsea wouldn’t eat chilli until I made it with chickpeas. Same with hamburger soup. If I add a can of beans, she’ll eat it.”

So I asked them: Do they like to cook with local ingredients? The answer was yes: chickpeas, lentils, ground beef, vegetables and fruit, when they can get it at a good price. “When we first started out, quantity seemed to be more important than quality,” says Phillips. “Now, people realize they can get the quantity and the quality as well. About half of our kitchens are trying to use local products.”

Anyone wishing to join a collective kitchen, or start a new one with a group of friends, should contact Janet Phillips at 655-5093. She may not be able to fit you in right away, but can help you explore the options.

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On another note, I have not yet broken my New Year’s resolution to make a pot of soup every week with Saskatchewan ingredients. Last week, I made a Greek avgolemono with Saskatchewan-grown lemons! More on that in this column next month.

Collective Kitchen’s Chilli Chilli Bang Bang
1 1/4 cups chopped onions
1 cup chopped green peppers
1 cup chopped red peppers
3/4 cup chopped celery
3/4 cup chopped carrots
3 cloves of minced garlic
1 tbsp chilli powder
1 1/2 cups quartered mushrooms
1 cup cubed zucchini
1 can tomatoes, undrained, cut up (540mL)
1 can black beans (540mL), chickpeas (540mL), and corn (341mL)
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp oregano
1 1/2 tsp basil
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

Sauté onions, peppers, celery, carrots, garlic, chilli powder and onions over medium heat, stirring often, until soft. Add mushrooms and zucchini; cook for another 5 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. This recipe makes 7 servings (1.5 cups per serving). To decrease costs (and for those who have a milder palate!) the chili can be served with rice. Each serving would consist of 1 cup chilli and 1 cup rice.

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