Students' new cooking skills build teamwork and family connections

McClure Elementary School fifth grader Karen Godinez carries stuffed peppers to the oven as classmate Briannalyss Santiago opens the oven door as part of the My Daughter’s Kitchen program.

Daniel Feldman is a music teacher and an avid cook.

Just as he wants kids to explore the sounds all around them in music class, he wants them to use all their senses in the cooking class he teaches after school at Alexander McClure Elementary in the Hunting Park section of North Philadelphia.

He and co-teacher Lilly Kay are among the 70 volunteers teaching healthful cooking in 35 classes around the region as part of the My Daughter's Kitchen program.

While these fifth graders prepared stuffed peppers and cabbage slaw in the cafeteria kitchen after school, it was the olfactory sense and the cooking aromas that were winning the day.

Briannalyss Santiago and Adelin Perez, both 10, leaned in over the skillet of sautéing onions and garlic and waved the fragrance toward their noses: "Oooh, this smells so good," said Briannalyss.

After spices and ground turkey were added and cooked, Karen Godinez, 10, carried the skillet around the room so everyone got a chance to breathe it in: "Please smell this," she said as she lifted the heavy cast-iron pan. "I like it already," said Jan Fuentes, 10.

"Yes, smell the aromatics," said Feldman.

Adelin and Briannalyss were so intoxicated by the bouquet they wanted to lean in for a whiff after each ingredient.

"Oooh!" Adelin said after the ketchup was added. And then again after the vinegar. "Smell that!"

"It's perfection," said Karen.

"You can see how much they love it," said Sharon Marino, the principal, who stopped in to say hello. "It's great to see them so engaged."

Marino feels the program also encourages strong relationships between the school and the students' families. "That is one of our goals," she said.

The population of McClure is about 70 percent Latino, she said. It is a bilingual school, offering classes not only for native Spanish speakers to learn English, but also for English-speaking students who want to learn Spanish.

Most of the students have helped their parents in the kitchen, said Feldman, but now some students are preparing food for their parents on their own.

"After we made the veggie breakfast sandwich, I made the recipe for my mom the next day," said Adelin. "I didn't have red pepper, so I made it with a green one."

She didn't have a pita pocket, so she made it without. "My mom really liked it."

The students take a lot of pride in what they are doing, Feldman said. "And even when the food is not to their liking, they are still eager to share the food with their families and show off what they have accomplished."

McClure was built in 1910, and, serendipitously, Feldman's grandfather went to school there in the '20s. Feldman didn't know that when he applied for the job as a music teacher, but after he was hired, his grandmother told him it was his grandpop's school. "My grandfather died before I started working here, but I like to think about him going to school here," he said. "It's a neat connection."

After the turkey was cooked, the students added a can of black beans and some cilantro, and then worked together to spoon the mixture into the green peppers that had been softened in the oven. Shortly after they were put in to bake, another visitor popped her head in the door. She was drawn in by the intoxicating aroma.

"We can smell this on the second floor," said Wendy Vanderburg, a second-grade teacher. "My students said it was making them hungry."

The students beamed as she asked them about their menu.

It's been so gratifying to watch the kids make discoveries, said Lilly Kay, the other volunteer.

"We heard from a lot of the kids, 'I don't like vegetables. I don't eat fish,' " she said.

But then last week, after Adelin took a bite of the fish taco, her whole face lit up with her revelation: "I like fish tacos," she said. And a minute later: "I like cabbage!"

This week, when Adelin and some of the others started talking about how they didn't like vegetables, the teachers cut them off.

"We've already found vegetables some of you like," said Kay. "So keep an open mind."

After the stuffed peppers were served with cabbage slaw, the students sat down to share them together. Adelin quietly tasted a small piece of the pepper with some of the filling.

"I like it," she said.

The others agreed, though some left the pepper and ate only the filling. All of them wanted to take home some leftovers.

"I have seen many wonderful things in the four weeks we have had class so far," Feldman said. He finds that the children are excited and empowered by the cooking. "I realized the students enjoyed their work, so they quickly became a team . . . working together toward a common goal."

The students look out for one another, he said. And their parents are excited to talk to them about the new things they have learned.

"Most importantly," Feldman said, "my students have realized that healthy food can be very delicious and easy to make."

mfitzgerald@phillynews.com

215-854-5744

www.philly.com/mydaughter

The mission. To teach schoolchildren to cook healthy, easy meals on a budget.

The reach. Seventy volunteers are teaching 35 classes in Philadelphia and Camden, with intent to expand.

The partner. Vetri Community Partnership shares the goal of encouraging healthy eating for children.

To support. Send donations to Vetri Community Partnership, 211 N. 13th St., Suite 303, Philadelphia 19107; note "My Daughter's Kitchen" or go to vetrifoundation.org.

To participate. Submit recipes to be considered: Simple, 500-calorie, nutritious meals, prepared in under an hour, for $20 or less for six servings. Send recipes to Food@philly.com.


Stuffed Peppers

Makes 6 servings

8 green peppers

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 white onion, diced small

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (add more or less, to taste)

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon coriander

1 pound ground turkey

3 tablespoons ketchup

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon red wine or apple cider vinegar

1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed

1 cup cilantro, rinsed and chopped fine

1 cup Colby cheddar cheese, grated

 

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Wash peppers and slice off the tops, cutting about one inch from the top. Remove ribs and seeds from inside pepper with a paring knife. Slice a small portion of bottom so the peppers can stand upright. Place peppers in a 9x13-inch Pyrex baking dish. Add water to about half the height of the peppers. Place in preheated oven and bake for 6 to 8 minutes, until peppers start to soften.

2. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Sauté onion and garlic, add crushed red pepper, paprika, and coriander, and cook for 5 minutes, or until translucent and aromatic. Add the turkey to the skillet, stirring with a wooden spoon and separating clusters. Add salt; continue cooking turkey until the pink meat turns golden, about 5 to 10 minutes. Fold in ketchup and vinegar. Turn off heat and set aside.

3. Remove peppers from oven and carefully drain the water from the pan.

4. Add cilantro and black beans to turkey in the skillet, then add all but 1/4 cup cheese. Fill the peppers with the mixture. Top with the remaining cheese.

5. Roast in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes. Remove and allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Per serving: 376 calories, 20 grams protein, 65 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fat, 1 milligram cholesterol, 44 milligrams sodium, 22 grams dietary fiber.


Cabbage Slaw

Makes 6 servings

1/4 cup fresh-squeezed lime juice (from 2 limes)

2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

Pepper, to taste

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/4 cup canola oil

1/2 head red cabbage, cut into quarters and chopped into thin strips

2 carrots, washed, peeled, and grated on a box grater

 

1. In a measuring cup, combine the lime juice with granulated sugar by stirring. Add the salt, pepper, and Dijon mustard and stir to combine. Slowly drizzle in the canola oil while continuing to stir.

2. Toss carrots and cabbage together in a large bowl. Pour vinaigrette over the slaw and toss until all the cabbage and carrots have been dressed.

3. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

4. Serve as a side dish to stuffed peppers.

Note: Use the cabbage left over from last week's fish tacos.

Per serving: 119 calories, 1 gram protein, 10 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams sugar, 9 grams fat no cholesterol, 130 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.