end-of-school year

Building community in the kitchen: The secret is in the sauce (and three recipes!)

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Cooking has always been a place of creativity, community and comfort for me. I grew up in the kitchen stirring sauces with my mama, kneading dough with my Italian Nana, and rolling lumpia egg rolls with my Filipino grandma.

As an adult, I have gathered many friends and family members in my kitchen to cook together. When I was a young married girl, I hosted a Cooking Club in my home for almost eight years. It all started because one of my friends told me she didn’t know how to boil water. Another friend loved to cook and asked if we could swap recipes. I looked around me and realized there were a host of women longing to learn and get in the kitchen together.

Our Cooking Club was born. We would meet monthly. I would choose a theme and some core recipes. People would bring ingredients. The ladies would cook and the guys would clean. We tackled time-intensive projects like homemade gnocci and and rosemary focaccia bread. We discovered new ethnic cuisines like Ethiopian key wot and Hawaiian sweet potato casserole. We created Pumpkin Party soup using farmer’s market abundance.

Through the years, we all started having babies and the Cooking Club grew to well over 40 people coming each month. We finally took a break when my husband and I took an assignment working full-time for a non-profit organization in Haiti. I still look back on those gatherings with fond memories. Maybe one day we will revive Cooking Club when all our kiddos are in high school.

I believe there’s so much to learn when we gather together to get our hands messy, employ our creativity, and share stories around food.

This school year I had the opportunity to teach a series of cooking classes for my daughter’s fifth grade class. My daughters attend Kepler Neighborhood School, a local charter that focuses on project-based learning. I started by sharing the children’s book I wrote. Cora Cooks Pancit tells the story of a girl named Cora who is the youngest in her family. She ventures into the kitchen one day with her mama and learns to make a Filipino signature dish called pancit. In the process of cooking together, Cora learns about some family history and history of the Filipinos in California. The book concludes with the recipe for pancit.

When I visit classrooms to share my book, I often teach the kids to make pancit. They help me wash and chop the vegetables and add the noodles to the pan. I am always surprised at the number of kids who taste the dish at the end even though it’s full of vegetables and new flavors for them. I think they feel ownership because they were involved in the process of creating the pancit.

I taught five cooking classes for my daughter’s fifth grade class this school year. One of my favorite classes was teaching the kids the secret in the sauce. I have three go-to sauces in my Italian cooking repertoire. These sauces celebrate my Southern Italian roots and my own creativity.

I invited the kids to re-create two of the sauces – pesto and a sausage ragu. We talked about tips on combining ingredients. For example, a little sugar is added to tomato-based sauces to reduce the acidic.

Then I set the kids free to create their own recipes. I told them the ingredients in each sauce but I didn’t tell them the quantities or the process of making it. They had to be creative, think critically, measure, taste test and write their own recipes. Their teacher and I also made this into a math lesson so the students were practicing multiplying fractions.

 

I loved seeing the teamwork that happened naturally as the kids created their recipes. Some wanted to get their hands dirty and add ingredients. Others engaged their senses smelling the spices and tasting the sauces. A few dove right into the math problem, writing down the recipes. I thought back to my cooking club and how over the years each of those friends discovered their tastes and their gifts in the kitchen.

Each of these sauces are pretty simple to make. They do not require a lot of time or a long list of ingredients. They do require attention and love. The kids gained some practical skills in cooking but they also learned to engage their creativity in community.

I hope this summer you will take some time to gather some friends or your own children in the kitchen. You might choose a favorite family recipe or try one of these sauce recipes. If you want to get adventurous, you can cover up the quantities of each ingredient and let your kids explore and combine on their own. You might take advantage of this time together in the kitchen to tell stories about your grandpa or great-aunt who made a special recipe.

**I’d love to hear how it goes. Please come back and COMMENT below about your experiences. Did you find any creative uses for these sauces? Which was your favorite?

 

 

Pesto Sauce

Ingredients:

2 cups fresh basil leaves

½ cup walnuts or pine nuts

½ cup olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

½ cup parmesan cheese

 

Directions:

  1. Combine all ingredients in blender or food processor except cheese. Pulse or process until sauce has a course spreadable, texture.
  2. Stir in cheese at the end.
  3. A few options:

-Brush on pesto sauce top of chicken and grill or bake the chicken (30 minutes at 350 degrees).

-Mix in with cooked, hot pasta of your choice and serve.

-Spread pesto sauce on top of toast or pita bread for an appetizer.

 

 

 Italian Sausage Ragu Sauce

-2 tablespoons olive oil

-1 onion, chopped

-1 (28-ounce can) crushed tomatoes

-1 (15-ounce can) can tomato sauce

-1 tablespoon dried oregano

-1 tablespoon fennel seed

-1 tablespoon basil

-1 tsp salt

-2 cloves garlic, minced

-1 teaspoon organic sugar

-1/2 cup parmesan cheese

-1 package uncooked Italian sausage (I love Trader Joe’s sweet Italian sausage.)

 

Directions:

  1. Heat saucepan. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil.
  2. Meanwhile, chop 1 onion.
  3. If sausage is inside casings, squeeze out into a bowl. When oil is heated, add sausage to the oil. Use a potato smasher or a fork to break it up.
  4. Once the sausage is lightly browned, add onion and cook until clear/translucent.
  5. Add the spices: oregano, fennel seed, basil, salt, sugar.
  6. Chop two cloves garlic or mince in garlic press.
  7. Add sugar, parmesan cheese and mix together.
  8. Pour in cans of marinara sauce and tomato sauce. Simmer on low heat for 15 minutes. (Meanwhile, prep your favorite pasta/noodles.)
  9. Add to cooked pasta and garnish with more parmesan cheese.

 

 

Alfredo Sauce

 -1 cup of butter

-1 cup heavy cream

-1/2 cup parmesan cheese

-1/4 teaspoon sea salt (or light sprinkle)

-1/4 teaspoon dried basil

 

Directions:

  1. Combine butter and cream in a skillet or shallow frying pan.
  2. Heat to medium and let slowly simmer. Turn down heat once bubbles start. As bubbles form, sauce will thicken. Whisk frequently and be patient.
  3. Meanwhile, prepare your pasta as desired.
  4. Add salt and basil to sauce.
  5. Stir in parmesan cheese.
  6. Pour over pasta and serve.

 

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