CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Cooking from scratch can be intimidating for some, but, given the proper tools, some simple ingredients and a few kitchen lessons, even the most reluctant cooks can find their way. And they have a great time in the process.
Angie Cavender, the school nurse at the King Center Head Start program, invited me to lead a "cooking healthy on a budget" series for parents with children in her school's program. She had received a grant from the CAMC Civic Affairs Council, and we worked together to design a program that would maximize the funding, the learning and the delicious fun.
The participants had minimal kitchen experience and were somewhat hesitant as I explained the concept of our initial class. "We're going to make three meals from one base recipe." Given the makeshift kitchen and small collection of ingredients their disbelief was completely valid; it is commonly thought that you need a lot of fancy equipment and tons of ingredients to make a meal from scratch.
We set about debunking this myth, beginning with an onion chopping demonstration -- the icebreaker, so to speak (or tear-jerker). Then each mother selected a workstation in our make-do kitchen.
Kelsey James and Takisha Jones worked together to thinly slice purple and green cabbage, and peeled and grated some carrots for a rainbow slaw. Monica Ingram whisked together the slaw dressing. She washed and spun romaine lettuce to accompany the cheddar cheese that Robin Christian grated for Inside-Out Tacos. Jackie Fox helped me brown the meat and onions for the "starter" base.
About one hour from start to finish, through rhythmic chopping and light banter, our supply of common grocery ingredients was transformed into three delicious meals. Our participants were transformed as well. "Look what we made! I'm shocked -- it's awesome," they exclaimed.
We sat down together to enjoy the delicious fruits of our happy labor. "This is sooo good! I can't believe we made this!" I heard someone announce as I crunched my colorful slaw.
According to Nurse Angie, they are already asking when we will be cooking again -- music to my ears!
(If the accompanying recipes look familiar, they were included in part of the series "The Shape We're In" last winter. They are so popular that I thought they would bear repeating. Enjoy!)
Ground Beef Starter
A lightly seasoned ground beef mixture can be ready for any of the following dishes. After cooking, the meat can be divided and cooled, then packaged and frozen, if desired. Alternatively, the "starter" keeps for several days in the refrigerator. Makes 4 to 6 servings per recipe.
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 pounds lean ground beef or ground turkey
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
HEAT olive oil in a large, deep skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until it softens, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic and stir 1 minute.
CRUMBLE in the raw beef and break up with a large spoon. Add salt and pepper and stir occasionally until the meat is no longer pink.
Note: Remove one-third of the meat to make Asian Noodle Bowl (recipe follows). With the remaining two-thirds of the meat, you can make a delicious taco meat that can be transformed into Sloppy Taco Dogs and Inside-Out Tacos.
2 heaping teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes, preferably "fire roasted," with juice
ADD ingredients to the remaining meat in the pot and stir over medium heat until it just begins to bubble.
REDUCE heat and simmer until juices are slightly thickened.
DIVIDE in half. Add a 14-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed, to half of the taco meat.
Sloppy Taco Dogs
There's really nothing to this -- sloppy taco meat in a hot dog bun!
1/2 recipe of taco meat (without beans) (recipe above)
Whole-wheat hot dog buns, heated if desired
SPLIT the buns open without tearing the seam. Scoop the warm meat into the buns (4 to 6 depending on the size of the crowd).
SERVE with sweet potato fries and coleslaw (recipes follow)
These can be as simple or as elaborate as you like. The concept is to put the inside of the taco on the outside. In other words, the lettuce actually serves as a wonderful taco shell, and then top to your liking and sprinkle crunchy corn tortilla "croutons" on top.
1/2 recipe of taco meat (with beans) (recipe above)
1 head romaine lettuce, leaves separated, rinsed and dried
2 corn tortillas
Sour cream (reduced-fat)
Cheddar cheese, grated
Jalapeño pepper slices
HEAT oven to 375°.