Saturday, December 7, 2013

National Brownie Day-Spotlight on a Southern Chef

In honor of National Brownie Day (and I checked to make sure it wasn't like the girl scout brownies day), I decided to write this post.   

Many of us will probably consume brownies at some point this holiday season.  For whatever reason, perhaps it is their simplicity to make coupled with their chewy goodness, brownies are always a popular treat for holiday parties and the like.  Despite their goodness, brownies tend to be "empty calories" (i.e. not much nutrient density per the calorie ratio).  So, I thought how awesome would it be to have a brownie that can provide us with the nutrients we need as well as the tastiness we love?

Now, I am by no means an expert recipe developer-knowing how much of this and that to substitute for certain items was never my strong suit.  But, I knew just the person to ask for this task.  Let me introduce you to Chef Miles McMath, the Director of Culinary Operations at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Miles grew up hunting and fishing and learning the essentials of the south’s rich culinary traditions at an early age.  He was born and raised in rural Alabama with the experience of 
his family growing and gathering their own food. This led him to understand the basic principles and importance of food in everyday life that would set the stage for his career as a chef.  He attended school at Sullivan College in Louisville, Kentucky and began his professional career as a chef working in Louisville.  in Louisville. After leaving Louisville, McMath was Chef de Cuisine under Chef Gerard Thabuis of Grand Casino Inc., Gulfport, MS.  His success at Grand Casino led to his promotion within the Grand Casino Group to corporate research and development chef for all seven casinos owned by Grand Casino Inc. McMath spent just under three years fine tuning his craft in Tunica before opening his own restaurant, Timbeaux’s in Hernando, MS.  Following Timbeaux’s, he opened two more successful restaurants.  During his six years as Chef/Owner of these restaurants, Miles gained extensive experience as a chef and business manager. Miles taped over 100 cooking segments for local television show Mid South Living, where he appeared weekly for four years. He also appeared on the Food Network’s Simon Super Chefs Live and is a five time Gold Medal winner in National American Culinary Federation (ACF) competitions. 
Gingerbread House at St. Jude
    Today, Miles maintains a 60 raised bed garden at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. “St. Jude has given me the opportunity to incorporate all of my experiences into one for the benefit of the patients, families and employees at St. Jude,” he says. “We have a garden that produces everything from mushrooms, lettuce and asparagus, as well as compost from our kitchen and worm beds. We have a weekly Farmers Market that includes over 15 farmers and food artisans. We also have a traveling farmers market that stops by the kitchen twice a week to fill in areas that are lacking in our garden. Most of our vendors such as vegetable, pork, beef and honey are from areas that are within 100 miles of St. Jude. In the kitchen at the Kay Kafe, we produce over 2500 meals per day and all come from ingredients that we source tirelessly every day.”  There are over 16 different food concepts, a catering department, two satellite cafes and patient room service model that the culinary team at St. Jude operates daily. To McMath the biggest challenge of all is coming up with ways to influence children to eat when they don’t have an appetite and are far away from the comforts of home. He has created some unique ways of doing so, such as kids making and cooking their own pizzas, decorating their own cupcakes and numbers other hands-on cooking
activities. One of the big events of the year is when the Culinary department builds a gingerbread house that is large enough to provide a dining table for two guests.  He invites 25 local chefs and 100 patients to decorate gingerbread for the surrounding area of the house.  
 I was fortunate enough to see this masterpiece two years ago when I visited St. Jude's during the holiday season.  Miles is also married to my cousin Julie, so I have the pleasure of knowing the family-man side of him as well.   

So, I asked Miles to share what he calls his "smart" brownies recipe, which is listed at the end of the post.  Then, I had to ask him some questions about the brownies, as well as his thoughts on some other food-related topics:

Me: So, I know that you mentioned before that you made these brownies for your three kids without telling them what was in it and they went over very well with the kids-they didn't even know they had spinach in them, right? 
Miles:  Correct!  I was asked to come up with a healthy brownie at work.  Not necessarily low fat or low sugar, just healthier.  Chocolate can overpower a lot of flavors.  So I just kept testing different healthy addisitions and came up with this recipe.  I was asked to be on ABC’s “Everyday Health” with Jenna Morasca and Ethan Zohn.  They came to our house for the filming and we made healthy pizzas and I made the brownies.  The kids didn’t know and really liked them.  (Since these kids are my cousins, I asked them as well, and they told me how wonderful they were, and that they had no idea that they contained the spinach because otherwise they would not have tried them!)

Me:  "In your role at St. Jude, as the director of Culinary Operations, you probably get a lot of special requests from children for snacks/meals.  How do you incorporate the concept of good nutrition into kid-pleasing items?"
Miles: "Give them a lot of choices and let them be in control.  If you tell a kid they are having kale, it doesn’t go over so well.  If you ask would the like kale, spinach or broccoli – they will choose one.  We also do a lot of hands on cooking with them.  That definitely works."  (Personally, I can attest to the fact that involving children in cooking increases the chances of them eating some of it.  Positive attitudes about the food being cooked can also help to make children more excited to try it.)

Me:  "Last question for you, as a chef as well as a lover of getting back to the essence of eating "real food", how do you promote this in your work, recipes, family life, etc?  What challenges do you face and what's your advice for those of us trying to do that in our own lives in overcoming the barriers?"
Miles:  "Simple, 'Eat Real Food' not food like substances.  Michael Pollan's Food Rules is really good.  Here are some of his quotes:
1. Avoid food products containing ingredients that a third-grader cannot pronounce.
2. Avoid foods you see advertised on television.
3. Eat only foods that will eventually rot.
4. It’s not food if it arrived through the window of your car.
5. Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.
6. Eat animals that have themselves eaten well.
7. The whiter the bread, the sooner you’ll be dead.
8. Have a glass of wine with dinner.
9. Stop eating before you’re full.
10. Eat when you are hungry, not when you are bored. If you’re not hungry enough to eat an apple, then you’re not hungry.
11. Don’t get your fuel from the same place your car does.
12. Do all your eating at a table.       
I have to laugh at some of these quotes, but I think Pollan makes some excellent points.  It was a pleasure interviewing Miles for this post, and I hope you will all try out these marvelous brownies, not only for National Brownie Day, but throughout this holiday season.  Bon Appetit! 


Makes 12 brownies.

  •  6 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 2 large farm eggs
  • 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup Organic cane sugar
  • 1/2 cup Blueberry and Spinach Puree (recipe below)
  • 4 Tbsp. whole wheat flour
  • 2 Tbsp. flax meal
  • 1 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup rolled oats, ground in a food processor
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray only the bottom (not the sides) of a 9-inch square baking pan. Make the Blueberry and Spinach Puree first (recipe below). Set aside. Melt the butter and chocolate chips together in a double boiler or metal bowl over simmering water. Remove from heat and allow mixture to cool.
Meanwhile, in another bowl, stir together the eggs, vanilla, sugar and Puree. Combine this mixture with
the cooled chocolate mixture.
In a mixing bowl, stir together the flours, Flax Meal, cocoa powder, oats and salt. Add to the chocolate
mixture and mix (do not over mix, similar to mixing pancake batter). Mix in the chopped walnuts, if using, then pour the entire mixture in to the baking pan. Bake 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.
Allow to cool completely in the pan before cutting the brownies. Brownies will keep up to a week in the refrigerator, covered tightly.

Blueberry and Spinach Puree
Yields 1 cup

  • 1 ½ cups raw baby spinach
  • 3/4 cup fresh or frozen unsweetened blueberries
  • 1/2 tsp. lemon juice
  • 2-3 Tbsp. water

Wash and dry the spinach thoroughly (even if it's triple-washed, bagged spinach). Bring the spinach and water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Turn the heat down to low and allow to simmer 10 minutes.
Rinse and drain blueberries. Place blueberries, cooked spinach and lemon juice in the work bowl of a food processor or blender. Process on high until smooth, stopping occasionally if necessary to scrape the bowl.
Add the more water if necessary, to make a smooth puree.

-Courtesy of Miles. T. McMath
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital-


  1. I have a question about the recipe: In the directions, it says to combine the flours (plural), but only whole wheat flour is listed with the ingredients?

    1. Margie, Thanks for bringing this to my attention. Let me clarify with the chef Miles but I do believe that it may be a typo from the recipe getting transferred over. I appreciate you asking. I hope that it did not mess you up with your trying the recipe! Merry Christmas to you!

    2. Margie, it was a typo. I spoke with Miles about it and the recipe should work with the whole wheat flour being the only listed. Hope it works out well for you!