Challenging Our Modern Food Systems

Challenging Our Modern Food Systems

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Growing up on an organic, small family farm in rural Kauai, Hawaii during the 80s/90s; eating fresh, clean, and locally/seasonally grown was just a part of everyday life. Eating things like “fruit loops”, “hot pockets”, and fast food were not a part of our diet. We had amaranth-o-s, a type of “cheerio-like” breakfast cereal made with amaranth (a superfood grain). Also, on an island food is an expensive resource, so we grew as much as we could, thus we always ate fresh produce and had a lot of nutritionally dense food as we had to make everything we ate count.

Fast forward to my career as a world traveled executive chef, food consultant, husband, and father of two boys. My cooking style organically includes the use of all of those great things I was blessed to be around growing up, and incorporates “superfoods” (nutritional density) into as many dishes as I can. For many reasons, I feel like we need to challenge our modern food systems, perceptions, and general choices regarding how we eat. For example, chocolate chip cookies are a cherished classic for sure, made with flour, butter, brown sugar, eggs, and often heavily processed chocolate chips. However, does a really delicious and satisfying chocolate chip cookie have to be made exclusively with these ingredients? Just because that’s how it’s been done for so many years, must this be our only option? Do the traditional comfort foods we know and love have to be made with ingredients that lack freshness and nutrition?

This brings me to the spring of 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of this past spring many grocery store shelves were nearly empty. People stocked up on canned and frozen foods. Traditional restaurants are suffering, but fast food drive through and processed franchised food delivery joints are thriving. Where’s the freshness? Well, believe it or not, it is still here!

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The early autumn months are great growing and harvesting times for local farms. As an executive chef, I have been blessed to work with an abundance of fresh and healthy produce from our many local and sustainable growers. This time of year we have many things in their peak, ranging from assorted pumpkins, gourds, squash, and a variety of heirloom carrots. Being able to combine classic warm comforting flavors like autumn spices, chocolate, and pumpkins is great, but even better when many superfoods can so easily be added to the party.

Let’s face it, these are stressful times and who doesn’t want to eat their problems away? (Joking, not joking) Maybe that’s not the healthiest choice, but we all want a bit of comfort in these tough times. A bit of comfort food here and there (in balance with all things) seems appropriate. In my humble opinion, chocolate chip cookies are always a good option for this food category. In my home, cookies and sweets are not every day items, so baking these gems of deliciousness is a special occasion. With the holidays just around the corner, the kids, mom, and dad all want fresh baked goodies. How do we incorporate nutrient dense ingredients and use fresh produce from our local organic garden? The answer, of course, is Autumn Spiced Chocolate “Bunnies”.

Autumn Spiced Chocolate “Bunnies” are a carrot cake inspired chocolate chip cookie. What is in the cookies that grows locally? A whole lot of freshly picked carrots, nearly 2 ounces of concentrated carrot per cookie. Also, raw honey that I have personally had the chance to harvest from local Bonita Springs hives. For the purposes of flavor, texture, and nutrition, we add ingredients such as: buckwheat, oats, pepitas (loaded with protein and fiber), virgin coconut oil (healthy fats), honey and palm sugar (low glycemic index), oranges (vitamin c), ginger (good for everything), and plenty of single origin fair trade dark chocolate (packed with mood elevating/anti-depressant properties, heart healthy flavanols, and antioxidants).

I hope you enjoy these “Bunnies” at home with your loved ones and that they inspire you to rethink how we eat so that we can make better food choices for ourselves and our communities.

RECIPE

BunniesIngredients:
(measurements by volume)

6-8 cups organic carrots chopped in medium chunks (or whole baby carrots) (will yield 3.5 cups dried carrot crumb)
2-3 oranges (zested & juiced) (reserve zest for dry ingredients)

 

“Wet”

6 ounces organic butter (room temperature)
6 ounces organic virgin coconut oil (room temperature)
6 ounces raw organic local honey
2 ounces organic coconut palm sugar
4 ounces organic brown sugar
6 ounces pumpkin puree (you may also substitute acorn or butternut squash)
2 large brown organic free range eggs from local farmers (Circle C has good local eggs)
2 tablespoons bourbon vanilla extract

 

“Dry”

2 cups organic all purpose flour (pre-made gluten-free flour blend may be substituted)
1 cup organic brown rice flour (store bought or easy to make at home in VitaMix)
1 cup organic rolled oats (do not substitute steel cut)
1/2 cup organic buckwheat flour
3 teaspoons baking soda
3 teaspoons large flake sea salt (Maldon) (this will create a wonderful crunchy texture)
1 teaspoon organic fresh ginger (zested on microplane) or 1/2 teaspoon dried ground ginger
2-3 oranges zested (see above)
1/2 teaspoon each: ground cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise (adjust accordingly to your personal taste)
1 cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
3.5 – 4 cups dried carrot crumb (pack carrots firmly into measuring cup) (reserve 1/4 cup for garnish)
2 to 3 cups organic dark chocolate chunks

 

Special Equipment:

  • Food Processor / Cuisinart or Robot Coupe Commercial Brand
  • 12” x 17” Baking Trays Lined with Silicone Baking Mats / Silpat (or parchment paper)
  • Stand Mixer / Kitchen Aide (with 6 quart mixing bowl & paddle attachment)
  • Sifter or Fine Mesh Strainer
  • 4 ounce ice cream scoop
  • VitaMix Blender (optional – for homemade brown rice flour)

 

Autumn Spiced Chocolate “Bunnies”
Yields 1 baker’s dozen jumbo 4oz cookies

Method:
Start Early

  • Pre-heat oven to 350 (f) (If convection, fan on low speed.)
  • Place carrots and orange juice into the bowl of food processor.

(I like to use organic, heirloom, multi-color baby carrots from a local farm, these are tender and sweet.  I just trim the tops and give them a thorough wash.  No need to peel or cut into smaller pieces before processing further.)

Blend carrots and juice until a slightly chunky paste is formed. The carrots should be approximately the size of bread crumbs.

Place a 11.5” x 16.5” silicone baking mat (silpat) on a cookie sheet tray.

Evenly spread out the carrot mixture over the surface of the tray.

Bake for 45 – 60 minutes until carrots begin to slightly dry and become like moist bread crumbs.

In The Meanwhile:
“Wet”

  • Place all “wet” ingredients (butter, coconut oil, sweeteners, eggs, and vanilla) into a stand mixer and blend with a paddle until a smooth and creamy mixture is formed.
  • Approximately 2-3 minutes on medium speed.

“Dry”

  • Sift together all dry ingredients and add into mixing bowl (except oats, flake sea salt, pepitas, dried carrot crumbs, and chocolate chunks).
  • Add sifted dry ingredients into wet ingredients, mix on slow to medium speed until a cohesive dough begins to form.
  • Slowly mix in remaining dry ingredients until dough is even and thick.
  • Place dough into a refrigerator for approximately 30 minutes to become cold. (This is an important step or the cookies will melt before a thick shape can be set while baking.)

Chocolate note: you can either purchase chocolate chips or if you’re particular, you can make your own chunks with a block of your favorite dark chocolate.  You need at least 2 cups in this recipe for an even distribution and proper ratio of dough to chocolate.  I like it extra chocolatey, so I go with 3 cups.  You can always place some extra chunks on top of the cookies before baking as well.  I like to try different single origin fair trade chocolates and switch it up every so often, there’s too many good options to have just one favorite.

Form and Bake the Cookies

  • Using a 4-ounce ice cream scoop, portion the dough balls onto the baking trays lined with silpats or non-stick parchment paper.  Allow 2” space between each cookie.
  • Gently press the dough balls down into a large “burger patty” shape (add extra chocolate chunks on top if you like).
  • Bake at 350 (f) for approximately 12-14 minutes / then turn heat up to 420 (f) and continue baking for approximately 5-7 minutes.
  • Remove from oven and enjoy warm with a glass of your favorite cold milk.  (I like Ripple pea milk.)

Places to Source Ingredients:

  • Inyoni Organic Farm
  • 12 Seasons Organic Farm
  • ECHO International Farm
  • Farmer Mike’s U-pick and Farm Stand
  • Circle C Farms
  • Worden Farm
  • Food & Thought
  • Whole Foods
  • Trader Joe’s
  • Publix

Easily change this recipe to gluten-free and vegan with these substitutions:

  • Switch all-purpose flour for Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free ‘all-purpose flour’ blend.
  • Switch butter with more virgin coconut oil.
  • Switch 2 eggs with 4 ounces aqua faba.
  • Switch honey with agave nectar/syrup or brown rice syrup.

The Sunday Supper Club

Sunday Supper ClubThis October Chef Robbins is launching “The Sunday Supper Club,” in collaboration with various local experts connected to a wide span of clean living components. Robbins describes the events as “a way to experience community, good eats, whole food philosophy, and meaningful conversations”. Imagine TEDx talks with an intimate dinner. His vision is to recreate the sense of healthy connectivity people had with the earth, their food, farmers, bakers, and neighbors that has been lost to too many of us in recent decades.

Chef David Robbins (a true locavore chef) is an advocate for biodynamic agriculture, slow foods, clean eating/living, veggie forward cuisine, supporting family owned local businesses, and spreading education on all aspects of sustainability. Growing up on a small family farm in Hawaii gave him a unique appreciation and perspective for the places and people that produce our food. Working with communities and ecosystems in a sustainable format truly is a win for everyone.
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