Hands On

 The best utensil’s we have are our hands. We use them to show emotions, signs of affection, to greet others and to cook. In the case of this post I’m using hands to teach and inspire. You may notice the following photos below do not contain faces but hands, which belong to the teenagers of the Children’s Home Society in West Palm Beach, FL. The home is a safe place of residence where kids can get help fast. Whether its issues of child abuse, teen pregnancy, or runaway’s the home provides a shelter for those in need of help. Since cooking is a way of connecting with others, making memories, and inspiring I thought how great it would be to show these teens what real food and cooking is all about and how fun it can be. Of course I couldn’t do this alone so I brought my good friends, Aviva, Eric, Jordan and Paula along.
 The menu for the class required a lot of hands-on action with Chocolate mousse pie, Sweet Potato Gnocchi and an arugula salad. This was definitely a menu you would not normally see a group of teenagers eating, let alone making. However that was the point, if kids don’t get that chance to try or experience something new how will they ever know if they like it. The goal here was not to try and get them to just eat it, we tried (and succeeded) showing them how food and cooking brings us together, even in stressful situation’s.

After introductions were made, hands were washed, and we divided up into teams, we dived into our chocolate mousse pie. The crust was made of Oreo’s (one of my favorite cookies), which definitely sparked an interest in the teens. Instead of a food processor to grind our crust we put the cookies into plastic bag’s and hammered them with rolling pin’s. As they beat away at their bags of Oreo’s I couldn’t help but say “ beat an Oreo, be happy”, we all stopped to laugh. Melted butter was then added to the mixture, placed in a buttered pie pan and then baked in the oven for 5 minutes at 375F. Our chocolate mousse filling came next which consisted of melting chocolate, whisking sugar and eggs, and beating egg whites. Everything was folded together but we couldn’t help but lick our spoon’s afterward, to make sure it tasted good…of course. The filling was loaded into the pie crust and refrigerated for 2 hours. 

The real work was cut out when it came time to make gnocchi. Gnocchi has always been a favorite food of mine to make, especially with others. You might remember my friends and I making gnocchi for “its time to do the laundry” post in which flour was heaved across the kitchen covering us in bits of dough and potato (ah, memories). For this recipe we used a mix of sweet potato and russet  because sweet potato is a nutritious pick that also provides a sweet flavor and russet to hold it together. After the potatoes were roasted the teens used their hands to scramble and mush the eggs, flour, Parmesan-Reggiano cheese, nutmeg and potatoes together. My friends (being pro’s at gnocchi making) showed the teens how to roll, portion and design the “little pillows”. For gnocchi we use the back of a fork to create a lined pattern in the dough to so that our sauce can fill up the crevices and hold all the flavor. They began taking turns at the stove boiling the dumplings of dough until they rose to the surface.


We ran into an obstacle when it came time to make the salad. This time around we weren’t using Oreo’s or potatoes, we were stepping outside the comfort zone with arugula. After having a bite of this mysterious peppery tasting leaf, most of their mouths turned upward, bringing unexpected smiles. As for the others, I think their still undecided. Of course the arugula would not be unaccompanied, we also tossed in cherry tomatoes, dressed in olive oil, salt and pepper, and roasted until withered and sweet. The teens could not get enough of them; they were “an explosion of flavor” one teen exclaimed! We also crumbled goat cheese and made a French vinaigrette with Dijon mustard, extra-virgin olive oil, lemon and white balsamic (a 1 to 3 ratio).

After two hours of cooking and potato kneading we were all faint with hunger. First we ate the arugula salad, which definitely was something new to these finicky eaters. However they have a newfound love for roasted tomatoes and goat cheese! Next came the gnocchi which my friends and I took the liberty of sautéing in brown butter, garlic and sage. They pigged out on the gnocchi not saying a word, just a big smile from ear to ear as they cleaned their plates. Each bite was a perfect harmony of savory with nutty flavors of browned butter, the honeyed taste of the sweet potatoes, and the saltiness of the cheese.  We took a short brake to clean and take in all this grub, but dessert or “the pinnacle” of our meal was to good to sit around for. The pie was crowned with fresh raspberries and bananas. Everyone huddled around with twinkled in their eye’s. One teen even said, “ I’d dump my boyfriend for this pie”, while eating her last bite with no hesitation.

No one can say that the experience wasn’t something special or unique. We made new friends and sparked new interests. We experimented with flavors and unknown ingredients, even if we didn’t like all of them. I told the teens that they can tell others they have now made mousse, gnocchi, and vinaigrette; they were now accomplished cooks or chefs I should say. They all stared and laughed at the fact that it might be “uncool” to tell their friend’s that, however they asked when would be the next time my friends and I would be returning. A teen said, “how about next weekend?” So, as we began our clean up I asked them to clear the tables and help breakdown, they just simply replied “why should we clean up, we cooked the meal after all”, they obviously have much to learn.

Keep on Cooking!!

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