Still Cookin’!

I’m in NYC getting ready for the Weight Watcher’s photo shoot tomorrow but I thought you might like a little update on the menu at the preschool kitchen.

Guess what? I am still cooking at the daycare. Raise your hand if you saw this coming. The cook who has been away on maternity leave asked if I would mind job sharing for a while longer. I agreed to take Mondays and Tuesdays for now and see what happens.

These last three weeks have been an incredible whirlwind of experiences. I have learned a tremendous amount about cooking in quantity, institutional equipment, and myself. I wish I had time to pour a cup of coffee and share every amazing story with you all. Perhaps someday I will. For now I hope you enjoy this collection of pictures and little tidbits from the past two weeks.

Fruit and Yogurt Snack

Right before the Fourth we served up some frozen blueberries on plain yogurt. The yogurt had a bit of blue agave swirled in for sweetness. As the berries thawed they created a red, white, and blue effect.

ingredients for hummus

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For lunch we served a heap of rolled tortilla sandwiches. They were schmeared with my very first attempt at hummus. Using a giant can of garbanzo beans and the regular cook’s recipe I whizzed up a flavorful protein filled spread. This lunch treated me to a variety of lessons. The first was, hummus is super easy to make. Second rolled sandwiches are an unusual food for many kids. The third lesson was, next time use two giant cans of beans. We wound up sending several batches of cream cheese rolls to complete the service.

Tortillas, Hummus, & Turkey wraps

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Whole Wheat Tortilla Wraps

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I was unprepared for the reaction to this lunch. I thought it would be a fun picnic style lunch just right to lead into the holiday. The rolls were easy to eat and simply flavored. I figured kids who didn’t want one component would unroll the sandwich and pick out their favorite parts. I don’t know if it was the brown tortillas or the bits of carrots peaking out but many kids rejected the offering on sight. I had a few desperate teachers come into the kitchen looking for something else to give their classes so kids weren’t making a lunch of only chips. I opened a can of peaches and doled them out to those who wanted them.

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This brings me to the fourth lesson, keep it simple by keeping it separate. I thought combining the protein, carbs, and veggie into one neat package would be a fun way to eat lunch. The chips on the side were there for a bit of crunch the balance the softness of the rolled sandwiches. What I know now is to send out the components in their own dishes. A basket of tortillas, a bowl of hummus, turkey slices, and plain veggies would have been eaten happily.

Frozen Banana Dessert

Frozen Banana Snack

I broke the “keep it separate” rule when I served these Frozen S’more Bananas. However, there were no complaints in that instance just requests for seconds (and thirds in some cases!). The same went for this cute snack food “trail-mix”

Snacks

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These tacos went out with seasoned brown rice and vegetarian beans nested together in one dish and the veggies touching but not mixed in another. Taco day went over so well it I did a seasoned ground turkey version the next week with chips instead of shells.

Vegetarian Tacos

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Veggies for Tacos

Another big hit has been cheese ravioli in a creamy sauce. I made some the first week and revamped it early in the third week adding two full heads of cauliflower to the velvety sauce. That lunch was also given a double thumbs up by children and staff alike.

Two ingredient pineapple cupcakes

One of the more fun challenges I have embraced is baking. I started simply with a Funfetti version of Skinny Taste’s Pineapple Bliss cupcakes. Six boxes of cake mix, six cans of crushed pineapple, some baking powder, and a snowstorm of muffin liners and we were in business. Serving them on the the same day as the rolled sandwich adventure may have helped restore my street cred.

Two Ingredient Cupcakes

Since the cupcakes I have whipped up a mega batch of Good Morning Muffins. I changed it up a little mixing shredded pears with the shredded carrots and tossing in some roasted pumpkin seeds for crunch. They were really tasty but is was worth making them to hear about the kids reactions. Some wouldn’t try them because they were brown (half whole wheat flour). Others tried a bite but decided they didn’t like the muffin (completely valid opinions). Apparently one of the older kids took a bite then looking at her muffin made a horrified face while shakily exclaiming, “there are carrots in my muffin!”. The teacher, unfazed, told her it was just like carrot cake. I wish I had witnessed the exchange first hand but the second hand recount was a delight.

Making a large batch of muffins

We have also had two batches of muffins made from leftover oatmeal. I made some for a morning snack on a day many classes were out of the building. As you might guess, 5 pounds of oats and 14 quarts of water makes a lot of oatmeal! I started with a recipe I found online but as usual blazed my own culinary trail to match my ingredients and personal taste.

Dozens of muffins ready for baking

Each batch was a bit different. I made them with cinnamon, nutmeg, all spice, assorted dried fruit, and more roasted pumpkin seeds. I also chose low fat soy milk both for the creaminess and so the non-dairy kids could eat them too. I didn’t measure everything for the first batch but did for the second. Unfortunately I think I liked the first batch better – beginners luck. I want to try these on a smaller scale soon and come up with a nice reproducible recipe.

It has been a crazy experience working in this kitchen with many happy and surprising moments. There have been bumps in the road and a few reminders of why I am so lucky to be in this position temporarily. My favorite part of this gig had been the people. What a bunch of creative, motivated, and fascinating individuals. I am blessed to share this time with them and really hope I am making something they enjoy eating at least once a day. I do hope to tell more of their stories at some point. But – you might have to buy me a drink first.

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