The Food Column: Taste for yourself: School lunch can be edible


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School lunch" conjures up images of tomato-paste pizza with stinky government-surplus cheese, canned corn and little milk cartons on a plastic tray.

So if a restaurant said it was offering "school lunch" for dinner, you'd probably skip it, right?

Well, think again. Some local folks have been reinventing school lunch in a big way, and the public will be able to try their fare from 5 to 10 p.m. Monday, Feb. 25, at Bar Marco in the Strip District.

Kelsey Weisgerber is the food service director for the Environmental Charter School at Frick Park -- but the school doesn't have a cafeteria. So she contracts with Springboard Kitchens, a nonprofit food service program where many of the student job trainees formerly dealt with drug addiction or homelessness. The program provides job training while also raising money for Springboard Kitchens' parent organization, Lutheran Service Society.

It's a win-win for everyone: A local nonprofit makes money, community individuals rebuild their lives with job training, and the school spends even less money on its lunches than it recoups through state reimbursements.

And -- this is the kicker -- the lunches are nutritious and veggie-packed, and they probably sound even better than what you're cooking for dinner tonight.

On a recent Thursday, the kids were eating spinach frittatas, fresh melon and tomato-bean salad. They frequently have apples as snacks. And one of their perennial favorites is "meatloaf meatballs" -- meatloaf repackaged in an enticing, kid-friendly way so the students actually eat it. About 300 to 400 kids eat the school's lunch every day. Springboard Kitchens keeps its costs down by acquiring vegetables that are past their prime and "stabilizing" them -- for instance, turning past-their-prime tomatoes into spaghetti sauce.

Bar Marco has been hosting "No Menu Mondays," when guest chefs cook dinner to raise money for community endeavors. Bar Marco keeps the profits on drinks and the guest chefs get all the food profits for their organizations. Bobby Fry, one of Bar Marco's owners, invited Ms. Weisgerber to serve up school lunch this Monday night. Springboard Kitchens Chef Corey Wink and CEO Tod Shoenberger will assist Ms. Weisgerber and the Bar Marco staff.

Proceeds will benefit a new endeavor at the Environmental Charter School -- a Taste Education Club where 15 to 18 students will try new foods and help Ms. Weisgerber develop menus for future school lunches, all with the goal of helping kids make healthful food choices. With assistance from some of Ms. Weisgerber's friends who work as professional writers, the students also will write about the foods they try.

The Bar Marco dinner will not be an exact Environmental Charter School lunch menu; Ms. Weisgerber felt the need to go slightly swankier for a restaurant crowd. But she did want to use main ingredients that the students would typically eat, and she is serving everything on trays. The menu (probably $20) looks to be tomato Napoleon with balsamic reduction, mac 'n' cheese, meatloaf with banana ketchup, spicy blackened tofu, smoked turkey tacos, pickle, cinnamon ice cream with crispy apples, and egg-battered pecans and a drink.

Sure beats tomato paste pizza.

Pre-Oscar party

Pre-Oscar Gala: Live music, pasta dinner, prizes, auction, Oscar voting ballots and "red carpet bingo." 7 p.m. Saturday at the Parkway Theater, Stowe. $15 per person or $25 per couple; proceeds benefit the theater. Ages 21 and over only. Information: http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Parkway-Theater/240484642671523.

Classes

Learn to Teach Kids to Cook: There are lots of cooking classes for kids out there, but this one is a class to help you learn to teach kids how to cook -- and while you learn, your kids (ages 8 to 15) can take a separate class. 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Marty's Market, Strip District. $20 for one youth-adult pair. Reservations: martysmarket.com (click "Events").

Wellness Workshop: Integrating Nutrition: Human resource professionals and organization leaders can learn how to incorporate fresh produce into their companies' wellness programs. Three sessions are available: Feb. 25, March 4 or March 18 at Marty's Market, Strip District. To register: farmtotablepa.com/events.

Savory Seafood: Learn the proper ways to bake, saute or broil fish in this three-week series of classes. 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursdays from Feb. 28 to March 14 at Sweetwater Center for the Arts, Sewickley. $90 for members; $105 for nonmembers (adults only). To register: 412-741-4405.

Wine

Winter Wine Festival: Taste local wines while enjoying live music. Noon to 5 p.m. Saturday at Trax Farms, Finleyville. $15 in advance or $20 at the door. 412-835-3246.

Wine Tasting and Silent Auction: Wine samples and lavish auction items, including a trip to Paris and autographed sports memorabilia. 7 p.m. March 1 at the Duquesne Club, Downtown. $85 per person includes wine tasting and wine glass; $135 for VIPs includes three raffle tickets, early admission at 6:30 with a CLO Academy student performance, and listing in the event program. pittsburghclo.org.

Broadcast cooking

"Firehouse Cooking": WQED-TV's cooking show, "QED Cooks," invited local firefighters to submit favorite recipes for a show episode and accompanying cookbook. Eight firefighters will appear on the program, which will air from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. March 2.

"The B. Smith and 'Thank You Dan' Show": Restaurateur and entrepreneur B. Smith, a Scottdale native, has launched her latest initiative -- a daily show from 3 to 6 p.m. on Sirius XM Urban View, channel 128. Ms. Smith and her husband and business partner, Dan Gasby, talk up healthy living, food, entertaining, business success and their secrets for a healthy relationship. For more information: bsmith.com or siriusxm.com/urbanview.

Read & feed

Green Eggs & Ham Brunch: Kids are encouraged to read Dr. Seuss books, fill out a form for each one read, and drop the forms in a prize box at McGinnis Sisters in Monroeville. All entrants will be invited to brunch on March 2, where the Cat in the Hat and Sam-I-Am will be the servers and prizes will be awarded. Information: 412-858-7000 ext. 7.



Veal meatloaf for a crowd

  • 12 pounds ground beef

  • 6 pounds ground veal

  • 2 pounds finely diced capicola

  • 2 1/2 pounds chopped onion, sauteed

  • 2 1/2 pounds chopped bell pepper, sauteed

  • 10 ounces roast garlic

  • 20 eggs

  • 1 1/2 pounds sun-dried tomatoes

  • 1 1/2 quarts breadcrumbs

  • 3 tablespoons cayenne

  • 2 1/2 quarts milk

  • Salt and pepper

Mix ground beef, veal and capicola. Add onion, pepper, garlic, eggs and tomatoes.

In a separate bowl, stir together breadcrumbs and cayenne. Add milk to breadcrumb mixture and stir until combined.

Add breadcrumb mixture to meat mixture and mix until combined. Season with salt and pepper.

Mold into 3-pound loaves and cook at 350 degrees until internal temperature reaches 155 degrees. Let rest 10 minutes before serving. Serves about 140.

-- Springboard Kitchens

recipes - foodcolumn

Rebecca Sodergren: pgfoodevents@hotmail.com or on twitter: @pgfoodevents.


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