'iCarly' actor has nutrition message to share

| Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Reed Alexander is dedicated to encouraging his generation to eat healthier, one “Kewlbite” at a time.

The 18-year-old actor is best known as recurring character Nevel Papperman on the Nickelodeon TV show “iCarly.” He starred in the sitcom from 2007 to 2012 and recently was nominated for a 2013 Kids Choice Award as a “Favorite Villain,” but he lost to Simon Cowell of “X Factor.”

“I'm proud to be defeated by Simon Cowell,” Alexander says. “He's such a star.”

The teenager from Boca Raton, Fla., whose first cookbook, “KewlBites: 100 Nutritious, Delicious and Family-Friendly Dishes” ($21.99, Rodale Books) launched in September, is involved in more-important roles these days.

He serves as a spokesman for the Clinton Foundation's Alliance for a Healthier Generation and has worked with first lady Michelle Obama on her “Let's Move!” campaign aimed at ending childhood obesity in the United States.

He speaks at food and nutrition-related events around the country and will be the main attraction at three Pittsburgh-area Giant Eagle Market District appearances this week and at a “Let's Move Pittsburgh” program, “Kids Can Cook,” for 66 students and their families and teachers Oct. 18 at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Oakland.

Alexander says his personal journey to overcome his weight problems helps him to inspire youngsters facing similar challenges.

“I struggled with a lack of self-confidence, a lack of energy, poor eating habits and a family history of diabetes and heart disease,” he says. When he realized his eating habits were out of control, he learned how to cook and started experimenting to create healthy versions of his favorite foods.

Today, he relies on social-media outlets such as his website KewlBites.com, Facebook and Twitter to connect with young people and share his views on nutrition and fitness.

“Social media is huge,” he says. “It provides another dimension to the conversation about nutrition. I can stay on top of what they want to hear.”

Hannah Hardy, director of programming and operations for “Let's Move Pittsburgh,” hopes his message about the importance of eating well, exercising and making healthy food and lifestyle choices encourages the young participants to share what they learn with their fellow students.

“We're very excited to have Reed doing food demonstrations and meeting with our students,” Hardy says. “Having kids being focused on learning how to cook and be active in a fun way is a good way to get their attention.”

Students scheduled to attend the event at Phipps are from Propel Braddock Elementary School, Waldorf School of Pittsburgh, Connections Academy and Colfax Elementary School. Phipps staff members and Samantha Montgomery, a Giant Eagle nutrition coach, will help lead the program.

In addition to his speaking engagements, Alexander is adjusting to another new role as a college student at New York University. He's enrolled in an individualized study program that gives him flexibility to travel and conduct his book tour.

“I love New York,” he says. “I'm really looking forward to hosting and entertaining — and cooking for — my friends.”

He already has some good study-group food in mind for snacks, such as his Roasted Eggplant Dip made with garbanzo beans and low-sodium vegetable broth, and his South-of-the-Border Salsa served with toasted whole-wheat pita chips.

Some more favorite recipes in his new cookbook are his Dark Chocolate Banana Marble Bread, Mini Chicken Parm Meatballs and Vegetable Dumplings with Lemongrass Dipping Sauce.

When he's at home in Florida with his family, “Every Sunday night in our house is Chinese takeout night,” he says. His vegetable dumplings are his take on classic Dim Sum, “so flavorful and minus all the oil and salt” of restaurant fare.

Candy Williams is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

Grilled Sliders

If you're a through-and-through slider devotee like me, you know that they are hamburgers shrunken to appetizer size, which is a plus, because then, there are no excuses not to enjoy more than one. Swap out white buns for whole-wheat, and you're guaranteed an added bonus of fiber. Sear, sizzle and serve with Butternut Squash Fries (see recipe ).

12 cup diced sweet onion

3 tablespoons minced fresh flatleaf parsley

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons minced garlic

12 teaspoon sea salt

12 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 12 pounds 90-percent lean ground sirloin beef

3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon grated Cheddar cheese

Olive oil, for coating grill grates

10 whole-wheat slider buns (if desired, hollow out extra bread)

Toppings of choice, such as lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onions, optional

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the onion, parsley, mustard, garlic, salt and pepper, and pulse to combine. Transfer to a large mixing bowl, add the ground beef, and stir until just incorporated.

Divide the meat into 10 equal portions and shape into balls. Make an indentation in the center of each ball with your thumb and fill with 1 teaspoon Cheddar. Cover the cheese with the meat and press down slightly to form a patty.

Heat the grill to medium, or heat a grill pan over medium heat on the stovetop. Lightly coat the grates with olive oil. Grill the sliders until browned and cooked through, for 5 to 7 minutes per side. Place the patties on the buns, add toppings as desired, and serve.

Makes 3 to 5 servings (2 to 3 sliders per serving).

Butternut Squash Fries

It's no secret that French fries are deep-fried in tons of fat, but the truth is, you can satisfy a craving for the crispy, salty side dish in a much healthier way. Reed Alexander opts for nutrient-rich Butternut Squash Fries and rolls them in cornflakes seasoned with dried herbs to create a super-crunchy coating.

Olive oil, for coating baking sheet

2 large egg whites, lightly beaten

1 cup unsweetened cornflakes cereal, crushed

2 teaspoons garlic powder

1 teaspoon dried marjoram

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried savory

1 teaspoon dried thyme

34 teaspoon sea salt

14 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and sliced into matchsticks

Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and lightly coat with olive oil.

Place the egg whites in a bowl. In a wide baking dish, combine the crushed cornflakes, garlic powder, marjoram, oregano, savory, thyme, salt and pepper.

Using tongs, dip the squash fries into the egg whites until coated. Transfer to the cornflakes mixture and coat on all sides. Place on the baking sheet in a single, even layer.

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until the inside is fork-tender and the outside is crispy. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Kewl Chopped Guacamole Salad

A medley of avocado, onion, cilantro and colorful, flavorful, all-around wonderful red and yellow tomatoes is featured in this deconstructed take on guacamole. As a stand-alone salad or served with chips, this fresh, super-delicious South-of-the-Border-inspired creation couldn't be easier to toss together. Every bite boasts big flavors and some powerful health benefits, too. For instance, avocado is great for your skin, nails and hair and packs a plentiful punch of vitamins C and K, as well as unsaturated fats, which are the heart-healthy kind.

4 ripe Roma tomatoes, cut into 12-inch chunks

1 large yellow tomato, cut into 12-inch chunks

4 ripe avocadoes, cut into 12-inch chunks

1 sweet white onion, cut into 14-inch chunks

1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Juice of 2 lemons

Chips, for serving

In a large bowl, gently combine the red and yellow tomatoes, avocadoes, onion and cilantro, and season with salt and pepper. Add the lemon juice and toss lightly to combine.

Serve for lunch or in a bowl alongside chips for a snack or starter.

Makes 6 servings.

Peanut Butter-Chocolate Chip Bars

In elementary school, one of my all-time favorite afternoon snacks was a flaky, cakey chocolate chip cookie. In an effort to create a healthier version, I replaced some of the white flour with whole-wheat flour and substituted peanut butter for some of the butter. Intensify the flavor of rich dark chocolate by stirring a little bit of espresso powder into the mix.

Canola oil, for coating baking pan

34 cup all-purpose flour

12 cup whole-wheat pastry flour

1 12 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon espresso powder

14 teaspoon sea salt

1 cup raw sugar

14 cup unsalted butter

14 cup creamy peanut butter

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 large egg

1 large egg white

12 cup dark-chocolate chips

12 cup peanut-butter chips

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly coat a 10-inch square baking pan with canola oil.

In a mixing bowl, combine the all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, baking powder, espresso powder and salt.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or using a hand mixer), beat the sugar, butter, peanut butter and vanilla extract for about 1 minute, until smooth. Add the egg and egg white and beat for 1 minute on medium speed. Gradually incorporate the flour mixture, mixing constantly. Stir in the chocolate and peanut-butter chips.

Spread the batter in the pan and bake for about 35 minutes, or until the bars are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool completely before slicing into 16 squares.

Makes 16 servings.

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