Cooking class is far more than just cooking; it teaches kids life lessons. And being a middle school aged kid is hard. They are trying to find an identity and figuring out where they fit in. In cooking class it is a level playing field. Many of the limiting aspects of their lives outside the kitchen vanish. Each student has the ability to shine; they interact with peers who are all in the same boat. A couple of my students are familiar with cooking. They have been in the kitchen with a parent and understand some of the basics. They get to be the first team leaders at first, share their knowledge, then step back and let another student be a team leader. Often the boys and girls have to work on the same team. This really challenges them. Sometimes I will let them have friends and many times I switch them all around. They figure out social standings, cooperation, and the over-used term of team building. Then each student goes home, and shows their parents and siblings what they have learned.....it really is the only class that they can demonstrate for their family.
We start off the unit with knife skills. They learn to chop onions. Lots of onions. And they cry. With tears running down theirs faces they realize that tears are just that; tears. They wipe their eyes, finish dicing onions and rinse their faces. It is a hoot! But they learn how to chop onions which means,with that skill alone, they can cook a meal for themselves! Chop a few onions, carrots and celery and you have a base for several dishes....stew, soup, roast, brisket, pork loin and so much more.
My main goal in teaching this class is teaching kids to cook for themselves and not to rely on fast food as they get older and go to college. That cooking a meal will mean saving money, but it will also mean being healthy. Sometimes you can eat out cheaper, but the cost to your health is not worth it. We talk about how the cost will not rear it's head until they hit their 30's. But doing things correct now will allow them to age with grace and great dignity.
We talk about childhood, and teenage obesity....we talk about how it has to be avoided with this current generation. We discuss how the commercials they see on TV that are geared for them and fast food well, that those commercials do not have their best interest at heart. They have their own bottom line agenda. And Taco Bell will make money at the cost of teenage boys being overweight and they won't raise an eyebrow over it.
Then, there is the entire social world of cooking. My own children are 18, 20, and 22. I not only encourage them to cook for themselves but for their friends. Instead of ordering pizza I will cook for their friends and have my children help. I want to teach them that it is such a treat for their friends to have a home cooked meal instead of another cheese pizza.
Here are two more dishes we did in cooking class. The students gobbled it up! Then I went home and made it for my family and it was a hit there as well.
Loaded Carbonara – serves 4- From Cooks Country
Browning the chicken in the bacon fat builds a strong backbone of flavor for this dish.
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 ½ lb)
Kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper
6 slices of bacon, chopped
3 large eggs
1 ½ c grated parmesan cheese
3 cloves of garlic, minced
½ c chicken stock
1 lb of pasta
2 c of frozen peas, thawed
1. Bring 4 qts. of water to boil in large pot. Pat chicken dry with paper towels, and season with salt and pepper. Cook bacon in large skillet over medium heat until crisp, about 8 minutes. Transfer bacon to paper towel-lined plate. Remove 2 T. fat.
2. Cook chicken in 1 tablespoon fat in now-empty skillet until well browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer to cutting board and tent with foil. Let rest 5 minutes, then slice thin crosswise and reserve.
3. Whisk eggs and cheese in medium bowl. Heat remaining fat in now-empty skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add garlic and 1 teaspoon pepper and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in chicken stock and simmer until thickened, about 2 minutes. Slowly whisk chicken stock mixture into egg mixture.
4. Add 1 tablespoon salt and pasta to boiling water and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes. Reserve ½ c of cooking water. Place peas in colander, drain pasta through the same colander. The hot water will thaw the peas. Transfer the peas and pasta back to the pot and add the chicken, egg-chicken stock mixture and bacon. Stir; use the reserved pasta water if needed to loosen the mixture up. Serve with additional parmesan cheese.
Chipotle-Grilled Pork Tacos Serves 4
Halving the tenderloins lengthwise creates more surface area for the wet rub to develop into a flavorful crust. Serve these tacos with shredded cheese and lime wedges, if desired.
¼ cup mayonnaise
1 (8-ounce) can pineapple chunks in juice, drained and chopped, ¼ cup juice reserved.
3 T. minced fresh cilantro
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 ½ T. minced canned chipotle chilies in adobo
1 (8-ounce) bag coleslaw mix
3 scallions, sliced thin
2 pork tenderloins (1 ½-2 pounds total), sliced in half lengthwise
12 corn tortillas
1. Whisk mayonnaise, pineapple juice, cilantro, garlic, and chipotle in large bowl; reserve ¼ c mayo mixture, set aside. Add pineapple chunks, coleslaw mix, scallions, and ½ t. salt to bowl with remaining mayo mixture and toss to combine.
2. Pat pork dry with paper towels and season with salt. Rub with reserved mayo mixture. Heat a large skillet with a couple of T. of vegetable oil. Brown the meat on all sides about 6-8 minutes. Remove from heat, tent and allow to rest.
3. Meanwhile-grill the corn tortillas over an open flame on a gas stove or in a dry skillet till slightly blistered.
4. Slice pork thin, arrange on tortillas, and top with coleslaw. Enjoy.