Lemongrass Chicken and Bok Choy Stirfy, Spring Greens with Clementines and Candied Pecans, Cheesy Toasts, Rhubarb Apple Berry Cobbler

First, the great news: the class was renewed! We’ll be back in the kitchen next semester, with a change from Tuesdays to Wednesdays. Sadly, Mary won’t be joining us due to a schedule conflict. If you know of someone who enjoys kids and can commit to volunteering an hour or two each week, please let me know.

CHALKBOARD

For our last class of the semester, the students asked for a version of the cable TV show “Chopped,” in which contestants are given mystery ingredients to create a dish. For our version, the kids would compete only against themselves and could enlist the judge (that would be me) as sous chef. We began by talking about the criteria for the meal, drawing on previous lessons about variety in color, taste, and texture (i.e., “eat the rainbow”) as the key to maximizing nutrition and pleasure. But how should the meal be organized? The typical American restaurant arrangement of appetizer, entree, sides, dessert is not typical of how most people eat, nor should it be. The kids were given leeway to design a meal around the ingredients and their preferences.

BOKCHOY The fun began as the kids lined up and one at a time, lifted an item from one of two heavy shopping bags I had filled at Metropolitan Market minutes before. They were asked to identify the item and suggest different ways it could be prepared. Speed was essential, and some of the suggestions were off-the-wall (candied mushrooms?!), but the process was so fun that I think we’ll make it a weekly exercise. Our “mystery ingredients” were bok choy, rhubarb, and lemongrass, foods the kids had probably tasted but did not recognize in their native form.

LETTUCEANDEGGSThe kids were not required to use all of the ingredients in the shopping bags, and could fetch items purchased for previous classes, such as spices and oil, flour and sugar, and whatever was in the refrigerator. One ingredient had no appeal: mushrooms. I made a mental note to fix that in an upcoming class.

WHITEBOARDEach student in the class has become a confident cook and this made it difficult to reach consensus on what to make. With the clock ticking, they went to the white board to brainstorm. Someone discovered icecream and Nutella in the refrigerator and whether these items could be used was a matter of contention, ending with a resolution to: “make from freash foods” (good thing they weren’t being judged on spelling!). Listening to the kids argue, the adage “too many cooks spoil the broth” sprang to mind, and I found it difficult to sit back and not interfere. As always, I learn as much from the class as the kids do; particularly what to leave out, whether it is words or ingredients. As Marcella Hazan said, “it is just as important to leave something out as it is to leave something in” and I’m sure it applies to teaching. Soon enough they reached consensus, amid mumbled concerns that there were too many carbs.

With very little prompting (I needed to remind them to preheat the oven), the kids sorted ingredients, claimed tasks, and self-organized into prep stations. I was impressed with their willingness to play on the strengths of team-members, strong egos deferring to others when it would help the results: true teamwork. A cookbook was consulted for the cobbler topping, and directions on the package of rice were followed, but everything else was ratios, experience, and intuition.

TOASTSFirst up was an appetizer of “cheesy toasts”: rounds of sourdough with garlic and grated parmesan, toasted in a hot oven. Delicate and savory, they could only have been improved with a large glass of Malbec. We made do with sparkling cider. (In stemmed glasses, everything tastes special.)

ENTREESTIRFRYNext was a stir-fry of chicken marinated in soy and lemongrass, fresh ginger, bok choy, carrots, scallions, and yellow bell pepper. Seasoned lightly with soy and fish sauce on a bed of white rice, it was fragrant, colorful, and simply scrumptious.

SALADThe salad was a source of some debate, with the prospect, rather late in the game, that it would remain undressed, and without any of the candied pecans that the kids kept sampling. Fortunately, crisis was averted and a simple lemon, olive oil, salt and pepper dressing was applied. Nothing else was needed. The juicy tart Clementines and crunchy sweet pecans turned it into a quasi-dessert. The kids loved it, and they aren’t as keen on salad as adults.

GOOPYPIEThe cobbler started with chopped rhubarb and Braeburn apples and then, because they were there, a handful of mixed berries from the freezer. A lemon was squeezed, the juice intended for the cobbler but then forgotten, and just as well. It was plenty tart enough. Flour, sugar, and butter made a the biscuity top, with cream substituted for milk.

PIEONPLATETalk about delicious. The buttery crust was crumbly and the bright-tasting, sweet-tart fruit tender without being mushy, with no hint of the flour used to thicken it. Cooking the filling a little beforehand took care of that.

Mary arrived in time to help me with the judging and confirmed that every dish was, in fact, superb. The only missing ingredient was more time to enjoy it with our proud young cooks. They had demonstrated their knowledge of techniques and racing against the clock, created a nutritious meal from whole foods, pleasing the palates of many. Not only our own, biased as we are, but several staff who wandered in, enticed by the aromas, after the bell.

“They didn’t kill the stirfry by overseasoning,” marveled a math teacher. “It’s delicious.”

“Oh, my. This is really . . .  good,” said his colleague, tasting the salad.

“I’m gonna hide this,” laughed the janitor, not wanting to share his cobbler.

As a parting gift, each student received a spatula donated by Chef’n, the local kitchen gadget company. And each student left behind something I’ll treasure: self-assessment forms indicating their understanding of farm-to-table principles and confidence with a wide range of cooking techniques. Those who are returning next semester have asked for an “advanced” class. They’ve earned it!

RECIPES

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Lemongrass Chicken and Bok Choy Stirfry with Rice

This dish was “invented” by the Farm to Table class. Amounts are approximate based on observation, so feel free to improvise.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup white or brown rice

  • 1 pound organic, free range chicken breasts, in bite-size pieces

  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

  • 1 tablespoon soy

  • 2-3 inches lemongrass stalk, smashed

  • 1 yellow bell pepper, chopped

  • 4 green onions, chopped, including green stems that aren’t dried out

  • 4 stalks bok choy, tough root removed, chopped in bite-size pieces

  • 2 carrots, peeled and sliced thin

  • canola oil

  • fresh ginger, grated

  • fish sauce

  • soy sauce

  • Sriracha sauce

Directions

  1. Cook rice according to instructions on package.

  2. While rice is cooking, place chicken, lemon juice, soy sauce, and lemongrassin ziploc bag, seal and set aside.

  3. While chicken marinates, prepare veggies. When rice is cooked and after table is set and everything else is ready, heat oil in wok or large sauce pan over medium high heat. Add ginger and stir for 1 minute. Add chicken and stir for 4-5 minutes until cooked. Slide chicken and ginger onto plate, set aside, and return wok to heat.

  4. Add carrots, pepper, and green onions, and stirfry for 2-3 minutes.

  5. Add bok choy and stirfry for 2-3 minutes.

  6. Return chicken to pan and add fish sauce and soy sauce to taste.

  7. Stirfry just until veggies are crisp-tender.

  8. Serve over rice with Sriracha.

***

Spring Greens with Clementines and Candied Pecans

Any kind of mandarin orange works here. The canned variety is not as tart, but will do. Serves 4.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups mixed spring greens

  • 4 Clementines, peeled and sectioned

  • ½ cup candied pecans, chopped (recipe below)

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • 3-4 tablespoons lemon juice, to taste

  • salt and pepper

Directions

  1. In salad bowl, whisk lemon juice with olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.

  2. Add greens, Clementines, and pecans and toss to coat.

***

Candied Pecans

Ingredients

  • 2 cups pecan halves

  • 4 tablespoons butter, salted

  • 4 tablespoons sugar

  • salt to taste

Directions

  1. Melt butter in skillet over medium high heat. Add pecans and toss to coat.

  2. Add sugar, and stir until caramelized.

  3. Spread on wax paper and cool.

***

Cheesy Toasts

Ingredients

  • 1 sourdough baguette, sliced in 1’ rounds on diagonal

  • garlic clove cut in half, or garlic powder

  • 4-6 tablespoons butter, melted

  • 1 cup Parmeggiano Regianno, grated

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Rub bread with garlic clove if using. Brush rounds with butter, sprinkle with garlic powder if using, and top with cheese. Bake until edges are golden brown (watch carefully so they don’t burn), about 10 minutes.

***

Rhubarb Apple Berry Cobbler

The topping was adapted from a vintage Better Homes & Garden cookbook, and the topping doubled, because who doesn’t love that biscuity goodness?

Ingredients

  • 4 cups fruit (rhubarb, apples, and berries combine beautifully!)

  • 2 tablespoons flour

  • 1/2 cup sugar

  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg

Topping:

  • 2 cups all purpose flour

  • ¼ cup sugar

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1 tablespoon baking powder

  • ½ cup (one stick) butter

  • 1/2 cup milk or cream

  • 2 eggs

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Chop fruit if necessary, then combine with flour and sugar in a saucepan and heat over medium heat. When bubbling, turn down heat and cook for five minutes. Pour into 9” pie plate or square baking pan and set on baking sheet.

  2. For topping, combine dry ingredients, then cut in butter by hand until pea-sized or smaller.

  3. Beat egg and milk together and add to flour mixture with fork until just combined. Do not overmix!

  4. By spoonfuls, drop topping onto fruit mixture in pie plate, creating “cobbled” effect.
    Bake 30-35 minutes until golden and bubbly. Serve warm.

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Categories: Dessert, Entree, Gluten-Free, Kid Favorite, Planning, Salad, Snack

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  1. Kale Potato Frittata and Dutch Baby with Strawberry Rhubarb Sauce | FARM TO TABLE CLASS - May 4, 2014

    […] EVER,” said Lily (in the photo below). Several others agreed, but Eric declared that the Chopped challenge was his favorite class, and when would we do it […]

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