PHOENIX - Phoenix fifth-grader Alexandra Nickle wants to be a "graphic artist and dog shelter owner" when she grows up, but it was her cooking creativity that landed her in the White House Tuesday.
The Hopi Elementary School student was one of 54 kids from around the nation who were honored for healthy meals they concocted as part of first lady Michelle Obama's
"Let's Move" initiative against childhood obesity.
The students were feted at a "kids' state dinner" modeled after an official White House state dinner, complete with receiving line and remarks from the president and first lady, before a meal featuring some of the kids' recipes.
"It was spectacular," said Alexandra's mom, Lauren Nickle, one of the 54 parents in attendance.
The lunch included remarks from Haile Thomas, a Tucson seventh-grader who was last year's Arizona entrant in the healthy cooking challenge.
Haile, who was a guest of Michelle Obama's at this year's State of the Union address, said she was "honored" to have been asked back after
last year's lunch.
"It was amazing being here for a second time not being a contestant," Haile said.
The winners were selected by a panel of judges that included White House chef Sam Kass, the Epicurious editor-in-chief and others.
Alexandra's winning entry, Banana's
black bean burrito, reflects Lauren Nickle's nickname for her daughter and her affinity for bananas – even though Alexandra said in a blogpost on the "Let's Move" website that she doesn't want "any other kids in Arizona" to know her nickname.
Still, she thinks her burrito would be a hit with kids back home. Her recipe combines mangoes, black beans, onions, whole-grain tortillas and other ingredients.
"Kids in Arizona love bean burritos," she said on the blog.
At the White House Tuesday, the 10-year-old called the first lady "really nice" and said the dinner was "very nice and very beautiful."
Mrs. Obama told the young chefs that the kids' state dinner was "mirrored … exactly off of state dinners" with one exception: "It's OK to use your fingers," she joked.
President Barack Obama later dropped in, musing that the first lady never lets him "pick up something with my fingers at state dinners."
Mrs. Obama acknowledged the work the winners put in to their recipes and encouraged them "to realize your dreams."
"We can't wait to see what you do with your lives," she said.
The president echoed the first lady, saying he "could not be prouder" of the young chefs-in-training.
Still, do not expect the commander in chief to become the commander in chef anytime soon. "Frankly, I'm not a good cook," he said.
After the president's remarks and lunch, singer Rachel Crow entertained guests with a rendition of "Forget You" by Cee Lo Green, as well as some of her own songs.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack called the contest a "terrific opportunity for kids to be creative with food."
"Young people are interested in cooking," said Vilsack, who called obesity "a major issue for us."
After the dinner and entertainment, the guests were escorted out to the White House kitchen garden to learn how the White House grows its own vegetables for meals. In the garden, Alexandra reflected on the visit.
"I was taught to be more healthier and stuff like that," she said.
For the mango salsa: • 2 ripe mangoes, peeled and chopped
• 1/2 red onion, chopped
• 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
• 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
• 1 teaspoon olive oil
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
For the black beans: • 2 teaspoons olive oil
• 1/2 red onion, chopped
• 3 medium tomatoes, diced
• 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
• 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
• 6 large romaine lettuce leaves
• 6 whole-grain tortillas (warm)
• 1/4 cup shredded low-fat Monterey Jack cheese
Make the mango salsa: • In large bowl, toss together mango, red onion, cilantro, lime juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Set aside.
Make the black beans: • Warm 1 teaspoon olive oil over moderate heat. Add red onion and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, cumin, oregano and salt. Remove from heat and let cool. Transfer the tomato mixture to a blender and pulse until smooth with some lumps.
• Warm remaining olive oil over moderate heat. Add beans and the tomato puree and cook until thickened, about 10 minutes.
To assemble burritos: • Arrange 1 large lettuce leaf on top of each tortilla and top with a scoop of the black bean and tomato mixture. Sprinkle with cheese and wrap burritos with salsa inside, on top, or on the side of the burrito.