Leaving the paper, but continuing My Daughter's Kitchen cooking classes

Olivia Rivera (left) looks on as Maureen Fitzgerald watches Malachi Campell who forms the turkey meatloaf. Essence Battle, right, assists.

Turkey meat loaf and mashed potatoes were on the menu for our final cooking session at Cristo Rey High School, with the students cooking and serving this meal for family and friends to show off the skills they learned over the semester.

The meal was fitting in a way that I did not appreciate until later — it was the same one my students in the very first cooking class chose to make for their families in 2013, when I started the My Daughter’s Kitchen cooking program at St. Martin De Porres in North Philadelphia.

I still remember that day, and how I nervously fretted over whether these 10- and 11-year-olds would be able to prepare a meal for 20 people. I even contemplated peeling the potatoes myself at home, worrying that we’d never get 10 pounds of potatoes peeled in time. But, lo and behold, the students made me proud, skinning the potatoes at the sink like little pros. Never mind that the potato peels jammed the garbage disposal, which then spit out the skins like a small hurricane all over the kitchen. Other than that, the first dinner was a triumph. I teared up watching how much the students had learned and how proud they were to show their parents.

Camera icon Elizabeth Robertson
Senior Najah Fleming (right) prepares the apple cranberry pear crisp with Essence Battle.

And so here I was, five years and nearly 100 cooking classes later, with another group, preparing that same meal, but with one big difference: This class would be the last one I would teach as an employee of the Inquirer. After 31 years at the newspaper, beginning part time in 1986, and working the last 12 as food editor, I have decided to take a buyout. This is my last week at the helm, after editing some 600 weekly food sections.

I will continue to teach My Daughter’s Kitchen cooking classes and write about them for the paper. And I plan to put together a cookbook of the dozens of recipes I have taught to schoolchildren over the years, beginning with the ones I taught my own daughter in 2011, when we started the cooking blog after her request for simple, inexpensive, healthy recipes. I’ll combine the best of these recipes with my favorite stories of the children and the beautiful photographs my colleagues have taken over the years. Profits from the cookbook will go toward supporting and expanding the program.  I’m so looking forward to that project.

As my time at the paper comes to a close, I’m filled with emotions. Yet the strongest of these is gratitude. I’m so grateful that this newspaper believed in the concept behind My Daughter’s Kitchen, that teaching schoolchildren to cook a healthy dinner together could make a difference. I’m grateful to all the readers who followed along on the journey, who donated money, who wrote wonderful notes of encouragement. Special thanks to readers who tied on aprons and volunteered to teach classes themselves. Two of those volunteers  bought stoves and had them installed so classes could be held at those schools. Two more readers also donated stoves.

I am so grateful to all the schools that opened their doors to us, to the principals and school officials who saw the promise of what cooking together could bring. And,  of course, enormous thanks to Vetri Community Partnership, which has been an integral part of the program and its expansion over the years. I never could have done it without them.

Camera icon Elizabeth Robertson
Cristo Rey High School administrator Sister Regina Flanigan and other guests and students serve themselves.

It may not sound like much: A bunch of kids cooking a meal and then sitting down to share it together. But year after year, I heard from students and teachers and parents how meaningful it has been on so many levels. And this year was no different.

“We were so excited to be a part of this program that I have been reading about for years,” said Sister Regina Flanigan, the administrator at Cristo Rey. “Not only are they learning the skills to cook, but they are learning teamwork, how to work together. … And they are so proud of what they are doing. They come and tell me about it all the time.”

Each student took away something different from the class. “For me, this class was a break,” said Najah Fleming, 18, who hopes to go to  medical school. “It was a stress reliever.”

“I had to force myself to come in the beginning,” said Dashaun Dunmeyer, 18. “But in the end, it became like a real hobby, something that was really fun that I looked forward to.”

“I became really dedicated,” said Essence Battle, 18. “I really learned recipes that I like and can make at home.”

“I also learned that cooking can be creative, that you can experiment, ” said Hannah Gonzalez, 18. “But I also loved that we are all so different, we have such different personalities, but we all work together, and in the end, we all come together as a community, and share the meal.”

Eleventh-grader Olivia Rivera looks through the oven door to check on the baking process of the turkey meat loaf and apple cranberry crisp.

Olivia Rivera said: “I’m coming to the age where I should be able to cook for myself. Now I feel like I can do that when I’m home by myself or when I’m babysitting.”

I have also learned a few things over the years: I learned how much these kids love the opportunity to be with their classmates after school. How one simple beef stir fry can make such a difference on a bad day. How learning to make a pot of chicken tortilla soup can feel so empowering.

And, not insignificantly, I learned how to avoid another potato peel hurricane in these ancient school buildings: Skip peeling the potatoes and call them smashed instead. The skins soften up and add vitamins and minerals. And nobody has hesitated in mounding them onto their plates.

I hope you will continue to follow this program in the Inquirer and Daily News and philly.com. For questions, comments, or if you would like to volunteer for My Daughter’s Kitchen, I have a new email address: mydaughterskitchen@gmail.com.

Turkey Meat Loaf

6 serving(s)

11th grader Malachi Campbell said the prayer before the food was served during My Daughter Kitchen class at Cristo Rey Philadelphia H.S. in N. Phila. on December 6, 2017. ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer


1 medium carrot, grated

1 large onion, diced

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

½ teaspoon fresh thyme leaves or ¼ teaspoon dried

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon ketchup, plus more for the top of  the meatloaf

2 pounds ground turkey

¾ cup oatmeal

2 eggs, beaten


1. Preheat the oven to 350⁰ F.

2. Wash, peel, and grate carrots. Remove the ends and papery skin from the onion. Cut in half and lay onion flat side down on the cutting board. Cut into thin strips along the natural ribs in the onion (about ¼ inch wide), then turn the onion and cut across to finely dice.

3. In a large bowl, combine diced onion, grated carrot, salt, pepper, thyme, Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, ground turkey, oatmeal, and egg.

4. Lightly spray or oil a sheet  pan. Evenly divide the mixture into two, form into two loaves, and place on the sheet pan so they aren’t touching. Spread the top of each meat loaf with an even layer of ketchup.

5. Bake until the center temperature reaches 165⁰ F, about 35 minutes. Slice into equal portions and enjoy with smashed potatoes.

Per serving: 375 calories, 19 grams fat, 209 mililgrams cholesterol, 449 milligrams sodium, 540 milligrams potassium, 12 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams dietary fiber, 3 grams sugar, 45 grams protein

Smashed Potatoes

6 serving(s)

Tamara Powell mashes the potatoes.


3 pounds red, Yukon gold, or white potatoes (any potatoes will do)

⅓ cup milk

2 tablespoons butter

Salt and pepper to taste


1. Put a large pot of water on to boil.

2. Wash the potatoes and cut into chunks about 1 inch square. If possible, keep the size of the chunks uniform to help them cook evenly.

3. Add potatoes to the water and boil about 15 minutes, until the cubes  are fork tender. Make sure to check a larger cube, as they will  be the last to cook thoroughly. Drain when tender and place back into the large pot.

4. Meanwhile, slowly warm  the milk (do not boil) on the stove. Add the milk to the potatoes with the butter and seasoning. Using a fork, wooden spoon, or potato masher,  smash until the mixture reaches desired consistency.

5. Enjoy with a slice of turkey meat loaf.

Per serving: 60 calories, 4 grams fat, 11 milligrams, cholesterol, 62 milligrams sodium, 121 milligrams potassium, 5 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 4 grams sugar, 1 gram protein

Cranberry, Apple and Pear Crisp

Makes 8-10 servings

Ingredients for the apple cranberry pear crisp.


For the topping:

1 cup all-purpose flour

¼ cup packed brown sugar

1 cup old-fashioned oats

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

8 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the filling:

2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, cut into ½-inch chunks

2 pears, peeled, cored, cut into ½-inch chunks

1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries (if frozen, don’t thaw)

¼ cup granulated sugar

Pinch of fine sea salt

2 teaspoons lemon zest

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour


1. Preheat oven to 375⁰ F. Butter a 9-by-12-inch Pyrex glass casserole dish or disposable aluminum pan.

2. Make the topping: Combine the flour, oats, sugars, salt, and spice in a large mixing bowl. Mix briefly with your hands to incorporate. Add the cold butter and toss until it is coated with the dry ingredients. Then use your fingertips to mash, rub, and press everything together to create moist crumbs. Sprinkle the vanilla extract, then mix and press again. When you squeeze a handful of the topping together and it holds its shape, it is properly mixed. Pinch the topping into bits, cover the bowl, and refrigerate.

3. Wash, peel, and core the apples and pears. Then slice into ½-inch chunks. Add them to a large mixing bowl and toss with cranberries, sugar, salt, citrus zest, and flour.

4. Spoon the fruit mixture into the buttered casserole dish. Remove the topping from the refrigerator and scatter it over the fruit, pressing it into the fruit gently.

5. Bake in the middle rack of the oven for 45 minutes, or until the fruit is bubbling up around the topping and the topping is golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool.

-- Adapted from Dorie Greenspan

Per serving (for 10 servings): 228 Calories, 10 grams fat, 24 milligrams cholesterol, 26 milligrams sodium, 150 milligrams potassium, 35 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams dietary fiber, 18 grams sugar, 2 grams protein