Monday, February 4

Welcome to Cooking!

I received an email today that I never expected: "Jack and I are preparing Spaghetti Bolognese for dinner. Why don't you plan to join us before going over to church council meeting?" My first thought was "sure, dinner before the meeting would be nice..." - my second thought was "What? Denise is making Bolognese?" What perverted alternate universe had I stepped into?

My sister Denise does not cook. Well, she can microwave...and make English Muffin pizzas...and I believe she scrambles eggs...and does something with crock pots and turkey breast and black beans. So, it is not completely true that she can't cook. But her experience is somewhat limited. She is determined to change that. You go girl!

I would like to think that she has been inspired during her time as my sous chef at JIFF (the after school program at Centenary UMC on Thursdays). This year (I got another one of those wild ideas...) I decided to teach the students some life skills in the kitchen. Each week I have a different group with me for the whole 90 minutes and we cook a meal, then eat it! The groups are 3-5 grade girls/boys and 6-8 grade girls/boys. So far this year my capable sous chef and I have taught four different sessions (we cook the same thing 4 weeks in a row): macaroni and cheese - from the box and from scratch; English Muffin pizzas - with marina AND alfredo (pretzel/Hershey kiss candies for dessert); pancakes, scrambled eggs and sausage links (chocolate chip pancakes for dessert) and the latest session has been enhanced chicken noodle soup (canned soup with extra carrots, ramen noodles and shredded rotisserie chicken) and grilled cheese sandwiches (with Muenster!) and blueberry crisp for dessert.

When Denise offered to help me in this endeavor - I figured that she would at least provide another set of hands (and remind the little darlings to wash their hands after running their hands through their hair...or worse). She has been outstanding. Not that she is completely unflappable - she gets a little stressed when things are running behind schedule (because I teach/talk too much) or when knives are involved, or when the occasional fire breaks out (okay, only once...a potholder too close to the flame). But otherwise she is fearless! Ready to try new things - she has even led the class in my absence on several nights.

So - it should come as no surprise to see she is ready to tackle some new techniques in her own kitchen. And tonight's Spaghetti Bolognese was very tasty! She will overcome those tricky time management issues with some experience and guidance. The recipe didn't arrange steps very well - and she nearly had her sauce complete before the water was on to boil for the pasta. Tomorrow night she is making blackened salmon tacos with lime yogurt sauce and quinoa salad. I've given her a few tips to make things come out at about the same time. And Jack is becoming proficient at dicing tomatoes and peeling cucumbers.

Now I just need to help her organize and equip her kitchen with the hardware (pans/tools) and software (spices/pantry stock) to help her be successful. Tonight we looked for something to zest her lime with for tomorrow night's dinner. Found two garlic presses, two mouli, and this odd device. I have at least 6 books of kitchen tools and gadgets...not cookbooks...just books about the tools! I have never seen this thing before. Help me out folks - what the heck is it? Why would it be in Denise's kitchen?

Ah...the mysteries of the kitchen.

And if you have tips for my new cook...I'll be happy to pass them on. I don't see her heading to the Cordon Bleu anytime soon - but she is embracing her new adventure and I've got to respect that!

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