April 20th, 2018: Session 4, Day 3. On the third day of the Food Explorers Club – Session 4, the children “visited” Armenia. We started out the class by trying to find Armenia in the world map, which is located east of Turkey and north of Iran. Once Armenia was geographically located on the map by the children, we talked about the recipe we were going to do: ARAM sandwiches (with an American twist). According to the ArmenianKitchen.com website, an ARAM sandwich is traditionally made with Armenian cracker bread (lavosh), which is softened by wetting both sides with water, wrapping it with a damp cloth, and placing it in a plastic bag for about 2 hours. Once softened, the bread is spread with softened cream cheese and layered with sliced deli meat, lettuce, cucumber (or anything you’d like) and then rolled into a wrap. The sandwich is then refrigerated for a few hours and later cut into 1” slices, giving it the “pinwheel” look. We substituted the lavosh with a variety of wraps (spinach, tomato & basil, whole wheat, and plain flour). The children sliced cucumbers, olives, roasted bell peppers, and removed the stem of the romaine lettuce to make it easier to roll the sandwich. We also had available a variety of deli meats (sliced turkey, sliced chicken, and sliced ham) as well as two types of cream cheese: plain cream cheese and herb cream cheese. Once the fillings were ready, the creation of Armenian-inspired sandwiches started at Didion’s Staff Lounge. Some of the children called it “Costco’s wrap sandwiches.” At least now, the kids know the cultural origins of these colorful pinwheel sandwiches found at Costco and BelAir.
April 13th, 2018: Session 4, Day 2. Bread and cheese: two delicious and incredibly versatile ingredients. On the second day of the Food Explorers Club – Session 4, we explored these two ingredients and found the inspiration in Italy. The children used bread and cheese as the foundation for their creative bread pizzas. They shredded cheese, sliced loaves of Pugliese bread at the length, prepared pizza toppings such as black olives, tomatoes, bell peppers, fresh basil, salami, and turkey sausage. The cheese grater was a hit with the children waiting in line for their turn. After they were done with their prep work, the “assembly line” began. Each child created their own unique variation of this delicious, easy-to-make bread pizza, which can be served as a main dish with a salad on the side, as a mid-day snack, or as a filling side dish. We also made many delicious variations of fruit smoothies using my high speed blender: we added a handful of fresh spinach, a fresh banana as well as a few pieces of frozen bananas left-over from last week. Added water until all ingredients were covered and blended until smooth. Some of children were a bit intimidated at first by the green color of the smoothie. We reminded them of the “gotta try it a bit” rule and suggested them to close their eyes so they could fully taste the smoothie. It was a hit… We then tried other variations: with strawberries, with mangoes, with pineapple, with everything in it.
But that was not all… We also made many delicious variations of fruit smoothies using my high-speed blender. We simply added a handful of fresh spinach, one fresh banana, and one frozen banana (left-over from last week that we cut in pieces, bagged, and put it in the freezer). We then added water until all ingredients were covered and blended everything until smooth. Some of children were a bit intimidated by the green color of the smoothie at first but we reminded them of the “gotta try it a bit” rule and suggested that they closed their eyes so they could fully taste the smoothie. The green-banana smoothie was a hit, even the skeptical ones thought it tasted good! We then tried other variations of the spinach+banana smoothie with strawberries, with mangoes, with pineapple, with everything in it.
April 6th, 2018: Session 4, Day 1. In many parts of the world rice is found at family tables every day, whether it’s served as a side, a main dish, a savory dish, or a sweet dish. On the first day of the Food Explorers Club – Session 4, the recipe was inspired by Japan and the kids used rice to make delicious and colorful creations of fresh fruit sushi rolls. The guiding recipe was from Chef Gemma Stafford https://www.biggerbolderbaking.com/fresh-fruit-sushi/. We used white sticky rice cooked in water and coconut milk to add a little hint of sweetness. Kids had a blast practicing safe knife skills, cutting various fruits (strawberries, bananas, mango, and pineapple), and creating a variety of colorful sushi rolls. They spread the coconut rice on the roasted seaweed sheet (nori), placed their fruit combinations inside the rice/seaweed sheet, rolled it, and there we had it: a colorful variety of fruit sushi rolls.
March 2018: The Food Explorers club took a short break in the month of March and resumed the cooking explorations on April 6th with a new group of enthusiastic children. :-)
Feb 22nd, 2018: Session 3, Day 4. Session 3 came to an end on February 22nd and we wrapped up our session by making easy fruit hand-pies. This recipe is super easy and versatile, allowing the children to explore many different fruit variations. All one needs is crescent roll dough (we used Annie’s Organic Crescent Roll Dough), brown sugar, cinnamon, melted butter, sliced fruit, and creativity. The children sliced apples, pears, and bananas, and, per some children’s request, we also had pumpkin puree, which was combined with apple slices and banana slices, or simply prepared with brown sugar and cinnamon. We made 32 hand pies, cut in half when serving so there would be enough bites of every flavor variety for everyone to taste. Some lucky parents, who arrived early enough, got to taste some hand-pies too!
Feb 16th, 2018: Session 3, Day 3. 恭喜发财 (gung hei faat coi). On the third day of the Food Explorers Club – Session 3, we honored the beginning of the Lunar New Year and made Chicken Wonton Soup. We started the session talking about China, its geographical location, official language, population, and, of course, the Lunar New Year. Didion’s Staff Lounge turned into a wonton assembly line with two tables (5 kids at each table) filling and sealing 60 wonton wrappers and a third table responsible for setting up the soup broth (chicken stock, ginger, green onions, soy sauce, white pepper, and a bit of sugar). The children got creative with their wonton shapes, making mini-pursers, envelopes, and even boats. One child mentioned that he only liked crispy wontons, so we pan fried some of the wontons. Delish!!!
Feb 9th, 2018: Session 3, Day 2. On the second day of the Food Explorers Club – Session 3, the recipe took us to the Southwestern region of the United States. Southwestern cuisine is similar to Mexican cuisine but often involves larger cuts of meat. The cuisine is simple, prepared mostly with regional ingredients, relying heavily on chiles, beans, squash, and corn. The bold flavors and variety of Southwestern foods make every meal an occasion and that was no different at Didion. We cooked Fajita Chicken Nachos with homemade guacamole and homemade salsa (although one can certainly use their favorite store-bought ones). We divided the children into three tables, each table responsible for one component of the dish. At the end, we all enjoyed a delicious nacho feast with each child selecting their favorite toppings. We even had the honor to share these delicious nachos with some parents during pick-up.
Feb 2nd, 2018: Session 3, Day 1. We started a new session of the Food Explorers Club at Didion and the recipe took us to Ireland. We started the session introducing ourselves to one another, talked a little bit about Ireland such as its geographical location, capital, language, most popular sports, and then jumped right into the recipe: Irish Potato Pancakes. Composed of just a few ingredients (mashed potatoes, flour, egg, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and chives), the hands are an important kitchen “utensil” when shaping the patties. In an effort to keep all 13 children busy, we also included a non-Irish recipe: Strawberry Green Smoothie. This is a refreshingly delicious and easy to make smoothie where you simply dump all ingredients in your blender (best if using a high-speed blender) until all combined. While making the first batch of the smoothie, we didn’t quite follow the order of the ingredients as stated in the recipe, which created a wonderful opportunity for meaningful failure (the high-speed blender got jammed with too many frozen strawberries at the bottom). We solved that problem by adding more liquid and using a spatula to unclog the ingredients: it worked! The children wanted another batch of the smoothie so we did it again but with the previous learned lesson in mind. Another successful experience! And the children asked for another batch, but this time we only had bananas and spinach left. So, these adventurous food explorers made a green smoothie with only 3 ingredients: banana, spinach, and water. Oh man… That was sooo delicious and a major hit among the kids!!! Some of them even preferred it to the strawberry version. Meanwhile, Chef Kari was waiting for the electric griddle to heat up so she could start frying the potato pancakes. When the kids started getting restless, that was my cue that it was time to put them to work again: clean up.
Dec 8th, 2017: Session 2, Day 4. Today was our last cooking class with the children enrolled in session 2 of Didion’s Food Explorers. We made Mexican hot-chocolate cookies. This is a simply delicious recipe from Martha Stewart that I have been enjoying it since 2013… So I couldn’t help it but share it with the children and my friends/co-facilitators Chef Kari Millette and Chris Pearson. We doubled the recipe and reduced the amount of cayenne pepper to 1/8 teaspoon. I also brought a batch that I baked at home in the morning so the children could taste the unmodified version of the recipe while drinking milk – lots of milk.
Dec 1st, 2017: Session 2, Day 3. After almost one month hiatus, Didion’s Food Explorers resumed our cooking adventure around the world. This time, the recipe took us to Italy with a simple and versatile pasta. The basic egg pasta recipe we used is simple and versatile. We set up four stations with each station making the pasta dough from start to finish. As always, the children got particularly enthusiastic about using the kitchen utensils such as the rolling pins and the dough scraper. We discussed how we could cut the pasta into whatever shape we wanted but it had to be consistent across the four stations so we wouldn’t have different cooking times. The children decided to cut the pasta dough into rectangular pieces. We also talked about how this recipe can be used to make lasagna noodles by simply cutting the stretched dough into larger rectangular pieces. Once cooked, the pasta was served with pesto (we used the Costco jar pesto) and the children went for seconds and thirds. :-)
Nov 24th, 2017: No class due to Thanksgiving break. We wish you a Lovely and Abundant THANKSGIVING, loaded with great food made together with family and friends!
Nov 17th, 2017: No class on Parent-Teacher Conference week.
Nov 10th, 2017: No class due to Veteran’s Day Holiday!
Nov 3rd, 2017: Session 2, Day 2. On our second day of Session 2, the recipe took us to South India, more specifically, to the state of Tamil Nadu. This area in South India is known for its curry, versatile salads, and stir-fry. We made chickpea salad – a twist on a traditional South Indian salad, which can be made as an appetizer or a healthy snack. Each child had their own knife to work with and they loved the more elaborate aspect of food preparation. When dicing the vegetables and fruit, we talked about the importance of dicing into small bite size. The raw carrots appeared to have a mind of their own, jumping off the children’s cutting mats. While the diced vegetables, fruit, and garbanzo beans were soaking in the lemon juice, we took our “green trash” to the school garden compost and grabbed a few fresh herbs (basil and parsley) to see if they’d elevate the taste of the salad. It was heartwarming to see the children enthusiastically tasting the salad, going for seconds, trying variations of the salad by adding black pepper, basil or parsley. One child even commented while we were eating the salad: “Wow… This was an upgrade from last week’s Brazilian bread!” LOL! It sounds like our culinary trip to South India was more successful than our culinary trip to Brazil.
Oct 27th, 2017: Session 2, Day 1. On the first day of Session 2, a new group of enthusiastic children joined us. The recipe took us below the Equator line to Brazil. We started the session talking a little bit about Brazil such as its geographical location, size, native language (Brazilian Portuguese – not Spanish), and then jumped right into the recipe: pão de queijo (cheese bread). Pão de queijo is typical from the state of Minas Gerais and it is a major hit among Brazilians due to its chewy texture and extra cheesy flavor. Composed of just a few ingredients, pão de queijo requires a great deal of tactile experience since the hands are a must when making this dough. Because we had to use electric toaster ovens, the ovens were not reaching the desired temperature, which affected the shape of the bread… The children kept calling it Brazilian quesadillas or Brazilian flat bread. LOL! We talked about using the moment as an opportunity for “meaningful failure” and discussed the various hypotheses that each child had to explain why the bread to went flat. Toward the end of the session, as the toaster ovens started to reach the adequate temperature, the pão de queijo started to resemble more like a round bread.
Oct 20th, 2017: Session 1, Day 4. Today was the last day of cooking together for the children enrolled in Session 1. Despite the weather getting colder, one can always appreciate a good, homemade frozen treat. So, we wrapped up Session 1 by making a few frozen treats. We had two Cuisinart ice cream makers available and were able to assign two groups of children to the ice cream making process (which was done in less than 3 minutes). A third group of children was assigned to preparing the ice cream toppings by slicing bananas, chopping strawberries, and pouring semi-sweet chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, and sliced almonds into serving bowls. We also had Halloween-inspired decorating sugar and cut bananas previously frozen that were used to make a creamy fruit sorbet. We used a super easy vanilla ice cream recipe, which was a great base for many ice cream variations. The children liked exploring the various flavor options by adding fruit, chocolate chips, and the colorful decorating sugars. We also made a quick banana sorbet by adding the frozen pieces of banana into the food processor and mixing it until creamy and lighter in color (about 3 minutes). Even the children who reported not liking bananas liked the banana sorbet. I also brought a purple sweet potato ice cream made with reduced fat coconut milk for the kids to taste. The color was beautiful and bright but the taste, according to the children, was a bit too bland. Can’t compete with sugar, huh? LOL!
Oct 13th, 2017: Session 1, Day 3. On the 3rd day of cooking, Didion’s Food Explorers came back to North America to explore this great fall squash: the pumpkin. This was perfect because our school’s Fall Festival was on the same day and started right after we finished up. The children made a super easy, dairy-free pumpkin soup. We had a group of children assigned to slicing the bread (to go with the soup), another group of children dicing the onions, and another group of children measuring the spices and opening the cans of organic pumpkin puree (a task that can take quite a few hands to get it done – it’s actually hilarious!). The chopping of the onions was the “talk of the class” with many children getting teary eyes while chopping the onions and having to rotate stations. At one point, the Staff Lounge was impregnated with the chemical irritant released when cutting onions. The children suggested goggles for next time and we talked about how the eye irritation was coming through their noses and we just can’t hold our breaths for too long. There were a few children who did not seem to be bothered by the onions and powered through the onion dicing. Of course, I had to take pics of their teary eyes and some children had to throw themselves down to the floor because of the onion smell. A lot of fun dramatization went on! As for the bread? Oh well… 12 children managed to eat two entire loafs of French bread (LOL!). It has been a joy cooking with your children: Chef Kari, Chris, and I are grateful for the opportunity to share our joy of cooking with them!
October 6th, 2017: Session 1, Day 2. We had another awesome cooking day with Didion’s Food Explorers. The children were so eager to learn and use their hands: it’s heart-warming! During our second day, the Food Explorers visited Japan by making grilled chicken skewers brushed with homemade teriyaki sauce and sunomono salad. These are popular dishes in Japan and provided the children with the opportunity to learn how to safely use a Mandoline slicer and how to thread pieces of raw chicken into bamboo skewers while wearing food-safe plastic gloves. The children working on the sunomono salad also perfected their knife skills even further by practicing to slow down when cutting the cucumber, by curling in their fingertips when slicing, and by cutting off a thin, flat piece of the cucumber length-wise to prevent the cucumber from rolling off the cutting mat. When it was time to eat, we brought out steamed rice (a major hit, of course!) and the kids also worked on using chopsticks.
September 29th, 2017: Session 1, Day 1. On the first day of the Food Explorers Club, the recipes took us across the “pond” (Atlantic ocean) to the Mediterranean area as the kids made limey hummus and herbed white bean dip. A group of 4 children was responsible for making the hummus recipe, another group of 4 was responsible for the white bean dip, and the remaining children were responsible for cutting the rainbow carrots, yellow cauliflower, and flat bread placing them in bowls and platters along with beet chips and cherry tomatoes. Using the food processor and learning proper knife skills was a major hit. Another source of excitement was taking the vegetable “trash” to the school garden’s compost. Kari had to randomly pick two numbers between 1-10 and whoever shut out that number joined her. When she said 1 was one of the numbers, a 4th grader gently said “but you said a number between 1 and 10 so 1 should not be one of them!” That’s what you get for working with smart kids who are paying attention to what you say. The children were also enthusiastic to taste their creations and to talk about which bean dip they liked the most. The winner among the younger kids (1st-3rd graders) was the limey hummus, while the white bean dip with herbs de Provence was a favorite among the older kids (6th-7th graders).