Monday, October 15, 2012

Hidden Valley's Lunch Break for Kids Program and Our Interview with Celebrity Chef, Susan Feniger

Susan Feniger's Yogurt Ranch Dip
Susan Feniger's Ranch Yogurt Dip combining Greek-style yogurt and tomatoes with Hidden Valley Ranch Seasonings!
You've all seen that commercial on TV.  You know the one... the one in that gorgeous "Hidden Valley" with families gathered around an endless picnic table set out amongst the fields.  The bright colors of the commercial always stick with me, that and the smiling faces of kids and adults alike enjoying mounds of fabulous food while they spend a day at the ranch together.  I've always wanted to join them for a meal at the Ranch which apparently, is set just up the road from me in the lovely Santa Barbara area.

A close second though, is a some of that creamy Hidden Valley Ranch dressing that can to this day, almost always be found in my fridge.  A dip the kids have lovingly referred to as "Dip-Dip" since they were about the age of two, ranch dressing fits nicely into our lunch breaks.

Green Veggies, broccoli, Cucumber, Zucchini
Liv seems to have been born with a dislike of nearly all green food (with the exception of avocado), and try as I might to get her to eat veggies when she was little, every veggie with a green hue quickly found its way to the floor.  Visiting friends one day, they placed a small dollop of Ranch Dressing on her high chair table, and much to my surprise, she dipped her zucchini into the dressing and popped it into her mouth.  I was fairly certain that the rest of the zucchini would find it's way (now smeared with dressing) onto the floor, and you can imagine my absolute astonishment when she promptly picked up another piece, dipped it, and ate it too.

From that day forward, green food made its way into her diet as a vehicle for that creamy ranch.  Calls of "Dip-Dip" rang in my ears as her ranch bowl emptied, and I happily refilled both the dressing bowl and broccoli bowl as she would proceed to clear her plate again.  Ranch and broccoli, the perfect partnership to get good foods into growing bodies.
Hidden Valley Ranch with Broccoli

Hidden Valley seems to have a flair for good partnerships, and I'm thrilled to be a part of the Lunch Break for Kids program.  Working with the Chef and Child Foundation, Hidden Valley is promoting fundraisers across the country beginning today, October 15th, 2012.

Highlighting ways for parents and kids to come together with chefs and schools to learn more about how simple, good food can make healthier bodies and stronger family connections, celebrity chefs including Stephan Pyles, Susan Feniger (see our interview with Susan below!), and Ford Fry, will be holding fabulous fundraising events at their restaurants during this week.

Susan Feniger's restaurant, Street, in Los Angeles, is hosting a Lunch Break for Kids event this coming Wednesday, October 17th during the dinner hours, and we have been lucky enough to receive one of the recipes from the event!  Should you wish to visit the event in person, reservations are recommended, but not required.  We'd love to hear about your evening if you are close enough to attend!

Susan's Kids Falafel Wrap with Hidden Valley Ranch Yogurt Sauce looks to be a sure hit.  With our time limited last weekend, Liv and I didn't have time to make the entire recipe, however we did toss together the creamy yogurt sauce for an afternoon "dip-dip" snack.  Mixed with Greek-style yogurt, a touch of Hidden Valley Ranch's Seasoning Mix and a good dose of diced tomato, Liv once again ate her broccoli.  Thanks Ms. Feniger... we can't wait to try the entire wrap!

Susan Feniger
As part of the DailyBuzz Food's Tastemaker Program's partnership with Hidden Valley, Liv Life received the incredible opportunity to interview Ms. Feniger, who you may know as half of the amazing duo, the Two Hot Tamales.

Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken have together logged nearly 400 episodes on The Food Network, she has appeared on Season 2 of Bravo's "Top Chef Masters", "Chef vs. City", and "The Best Thing I Ever Ate".  Susan has also recently opened her restaurant, Street, in addition to releasing a new cookbook (it's on my Christmas list!), Susan Feniger's Street Food.

I personally discovered Susan nearly 15 years ago as my husband and I dined at the Mandalay Bay Border Grill which she owns with Ms. Milliken.  With additional Border Grill locations in Santa Monica and Downtown Los Angeles, the Tamales have now introduced the mobile Border Grill Food Truck in the L.A. area.

And now, I present, Ms. Susan Feniger:

Liv Life: Some 12 years ago my husband and I discovered the Mandalay Bay Border Grill as we enjoyed our first weekend without kids in over 5 years.  I vividly remember an extraordinarily tender skirt steak marinated with flavors of lime and cilantro.  What, in your opinion, is most important for a successful marinade? 

Susan Feniger: Trick to a great marinade is it has to be strong and powerful (not necessarily spicy) but powerful so you taste that the meat was marinated in the beginning!  We typically add fresh lime, not too much though, because too much will cook the meat, and we don’t want that.  Using skirt steak it’s the perfect cut, in my opinion, to marinate-it’s got great marbling making the skirt taste like butter (also cut across the grain)! Love that with a minty lime cooler which is made from tons of fresh mint, fresh lime, little sugar and sparkling water. 

LL:  Locally here in San Diego, food trucks are popping up all over the place with each gaining groups of dedicated followers.  I’ve read about your Border Grill Food Truck, and I’m curious about the challenges of cooking on a truck as opposed to cooking in a “real” kitchen? 

SF:  Mary Sue and I are used to teeny kitchens …we started in a very small one, and at my newest restaurant STREET the kitchen is about the size of the one Mary Sue and I started in!  But on a truck for sure there are some limitations (although you work around those!)  Not a lot of room to heat up dishes slow and without rushing.  Truck world is all about rushing, so we’ve had to be creative how to get to an event, get food hot, cook food to order and feel like it’s the quality of the truck.  I think we’ve gotten it figured out.  Trick with Trucks: it’s fast and furious… so cooks have to be the same!

LL:  Congratulations on your Street Food Cookbook!  In the promo you talk about your love of street food.  While much of your past work has had a Mexican flair, Street Food looks to go even more global.  What cultures do you feature in your new book?   Was there anything that stands out in your research that you immediately knew would NOT make the book?  Any spices/ingredients that have become new favorites?   

SF:  In the book we tell a few of my fave travel stories... India, Vietnam, Turkey... very food driven cultures, for sure some of the best… We touch a bit into India, South East Asia for sure, Ukraine, Japan, Middle East.  If  a recipe was too complicated it got booted!  My favorite street food in India: Pani Puri..too many steps…we did put Bhel Puri, similar but not the same… Maybe recipes we felt might be too complicated got booted… Even mandoo dumplings which are easy but they got cut…

LL:  My daughter, Liv, and I are thrilled to be a part of Hidden Valley Ranch’s Lunch Break for Kids Program.  How did you become involved in the efforts to support childhood nutrition education, and what do you believe are some of the most important nutrition ideas we need to be teaching kids today? 

SF:  Listen, it’s all about kids, always has been. They are the future, and their minds and the development of a healthy body and mind is critical in my opinion. Kids being taught to eat properly will change our healthcare system in a big way.   We all FINALLY (well, maybe not all of us) but most know feeding our children properly is a huge issue in our country. There are so many kids that are starving, that it’s scary, when you see the abundance we live in.

Mary Sue, my partner at Border Grill, and I have been involved with Share our Strength for many years. We have taught many young kids classes, from elementary on up. To help educate our young kids is a huge step towards change-they will, already do demand more!

Liv and her dance friends supporting Share Our Strength - 2011.  Our San Diego group raised thousands of dollars over the last two years at our annual bake sales.
So, for me anything I can do to fight childhood hunger and the flip side of the coin which is eating healthy, particularly at school as well as at home,  is such a big part of our responsibility to our kids.  How do we raise awareness? It’s starts with education.

The idea of Hidden Valley beginning this program to help teach our young kids about how to eat better and actually like it! That is a role, that we chefs love. Since we love to cook, the idea of really helping to effect change a little is fantastic. I believe raising money to support education, teaching kids about life and how to live healthy is the answer to so many problems in our society . 

LL:  Tell us about the Fundraiser for Lunch Break for Kids that you are holding at your restaurant, Street in Los Angeles, on Wednesday, October 17th?

SF:  Basically we are just trying to raise awareness to our public... trying to teach them about nutrition and the things we believe in: like the Monterey Bay Aquarium and our commitment to Sustainability, and how do you make something basic and simple for a kid but turn it into something they really want to have because it’s delicious.

On the 17th we are going to be highlighting our new dish using Organic Greek Yoghurt, Hidden Valley spice seasoning, Tomato juice-fresh as a sauce for a very healthy wrap with chickpeas, cucumbers, tomatoes.  So the concept is take a great salad with a crispy crouton (sort of) drizzled with our yummy yoghurt sauce.

For me, I am lucky to be in this field. We have this incredible opportunity to possibly make a difference. Our goal in working with Hidden Valley is to help children eat better.  Secretly, my mom loved  Hidden Valley and that has stuck with me forever, so I was thrilled to find a great use for it that can also help!

Susan Feniger's Yogurt Ranch Dip

Hidden Valley Ranch Yogurt Dip
Susan Feniger

1 cup Greek Style plain yogurt
1 packet** of Hidden Valley Ranch Original Salad Dressing and Seasoning Mix 1 large tomato, cored and rough chopped
Juice of one lemon

Place all ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. Let chill in the refrigerator while you prepare the rest of your ingredients.

**Liv Life Note:  Liv and I used about 1 Tbs of the Hidden Valley Ranch Seasoning in our recipe.

Liv's weekend this last weekend was consumed with a Broadcasting Competition Project, and with two days at 9+ hours a day, the kids needed fuel, energy and a break now and then.

Telling the kids we had this post to write, I asked if they would like to pose with the bottle of dressing... not only did they pose, but they laughed, posed again, and tested the dip.  After about 10 minutes of fun though, one of the boys asked, "Can't we just eat it now??".  And they did....

VMS Broadcasting Competition Team... taking a break!

The Hidden Valley® Original Ranch®, dressings & dips has provided me with free product to help with my review, but anything I receive from Hidden Valley does not affect my thoughts on its company or their product.


  1. Great interview!! I love watching Susan on TV, and her food always looks amazing. Too bad I haven't had a chance to visit any of her restaurants... Indiana is a bit far from Cali. ;)

  2. How fortunate you are you have this incredible opportunity. Loved the interview. Love Susan and enjoy watching her on TV.

  3. Kim- Congrats on the interview and you did an awesome job. I was just at dinner with a friend and we were talking about yogurt dips and how I wanted to start substituting yogurt for sour cream, but still want it to taste great. I will definitely try this recipe. I never would have thought to add the tomato. :)

  4. Two Hot Tamales was one of the first cooking shows I watched regularly as an adult...I loved your interview with Susan! I've also eaten at her LV restaurant on one of our few childless getaways :)

    PS...your dip looks perfect! Wonder if it's too late to get Katie to dip some veggies ;)

  5. Wow, how fun that you got to interview Susan. She seems like an warm, wonderful woman. 'Dip dip.' I love it. Dudette will eat carrots with ranch dressing, but not alone anymore. I think HIdden Valley puts a touch of magic pixie dust in their dressing that makes kids like it. :)

  6. Kim, this is a fabulous post, and what a terrific interview subject! Though she'll likey not remember, Susan and I worked together in Hollywood back in the day. I've bookmarked the recipe as my kids are still at the finicky stage of eating. Heck, I'll bet the wholefamily will enjoy it. Brava!

  7. How cool! I am so excited for you. I love Susan ever since she appeared on TCMasters.


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