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Smoothie going

Citizen Staff Writer



Beginner’s luck?

Maybe, but it’s just as likely that Amber Otero has a natural talent for making smoothies, and that Jessica Hernandez has a natural talent for organizing events.

Amber’s fruit smoothies and her teammates’ two sandwiches and a wrap took the top prize at the Teen Iron Chef competition held Saturday at the John Valenzuela Youth Center, 1550 S. Sixth Ave.

What started just two months ago as a brainstorm to steer kids toward more healthful eating culminated in an event in which teens showed their culinary skills. Sixteen tweens and teens working in five teams crafted sandwiches, wraps and smoothies from food donated from several grocery stores.

Also donated were prizes awarded the winners by a panel of five judges.

Hernandez, a graduate student in the University of Arizona’s School of Information Resources and Library Science, even managed to get donations for decorations and secure the pièce de résistance – a full-sized gong a la the “Iron Chef” television series.

“We were really pleased at how people responded with donations, and I think the judges were really impressed at how creative the teams were,” Hernandez said.

By design, common grocery items – none costing more than $3 – were used in the competition, Hernandez said, adding the mystery ingredient was cream cheese.

Getting kids to realize that they can make healthy lifestyle choices with foods around the house and come up with easy, tasty combinations was the goal, she said.

“I never ever made a smoothie before, so I was kind of nervous,” said 11-year-old Amber of the South Tucson Kids team. “It came out good. I would drink it.”

A team of three Tucson High School students showed the most flair in presentation skills, serving their wrap as a multisectioned insect that sported tiny dabs of sour cream and black beans for eyes.

In the end, the South Tucson Kids’ organizational skills and well-crafted fare won the day, said Mardi Burden, one of five judges.

“They had the biggest team, and we were really impressed at how they had every person on the team working in a really productive manner,” said Burden, a chef and owner of Cuisine Classic cooking school.

Nine-year-old Wesley Bell wanted to enter the competition, but was too young. Hernandez found a way to get him involved, making him one of the five judges.

“All the food was pretty good. It was pretty hard to pick,” Wesley said. “I liked the smoothie from the Red Hot Chili Peppers team.

“And that wrap that looked like a bug, that was really good,” Wesley added.

Joining Burden and Wesley on the judges panels were Tucson Unified School District board member Adelita Grijalva, Miss Native American UA Candace Begody and South Tucson Police Sgt. E.W. Cajas.

Smoothies, like the one made by the winning team, can be as simple as throwing some ingredients in a blender and seeing what comes out. But if you’re not quite that adventurous, here are a couple recipes to use as starting points.

Strawberry-banana smoothie

1 1/2 cups unsweetened frozen strawberries

2 small bananas, broken into chunks

1/2 cup nonfat buttermilk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pinch salt

In a blender, combine all ingredients and blend until smooth.

Start to finish: 5 minutes

Servings: 2

Blueberry-pomegranate smoothie

1 1/2 cups frozen blueberries

1 cup pomegranate juice

1/2 cup nonfat buttermilk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pinch salt

In a blender, combine all ingredients and blend until smooth.

Start to finish: 5 minutes

Servings: 2

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