Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Cooking really does matter

When I was in cooking school, I had the good fortune of volunteering to assist a class through Cooking Matters, which is a program of the national anti-hunger organization Share Our Strength. Cooking Matters teaches cooking to low-income families, relying on an amazing (and amazingly small) group of paid staff along with volunteer chefs and nutritionists. I am about to complete my fifth tour with Cooking Matters as a chef instructor, and I've taught adults and kids in schools, Head Start programs, and health centers.

Cooking Matters classes have the twin goals of encouraging participants to cook more at home and make healthier eating choices. Each class has a hands-on cooking approach combined with nutrition information, and with adults we meet one week at a grocery store to learn about smarter food shopping. 

It doesn't seem possible, but you can be hungry and obese in our country, thanks to our twisted food system that offers up a dizzying array of fattening food on the cheap. If you only have a dollar to spend on lunch, where else can you best feel full than off the McDonald's dollar menu? Cooking Matters smartly recognizes that hunger and health can be tackled together with home cooking. Every class recipe costs no more than $1.40 per serving and increases exposure to whole grains, more veggies, and lean meats.

Cooking from scratch at home is practically a political act, and is certainly is a dying art. Food writer Michael Pollan's new book Cooked posits that the best thing we can do for your health and the health of the planet is to get back to cooking at home. But home cooking does more, by addressing hunger as well.

Hunger is an all too common problem in this country, and plenty of people with homes and jobs don't know where their next meal is coming from. A new documentary, called A Place At The Table, explores the shocking facts about hunger in our country. What's even more shocking is that, given the fact that there are millions of hungry children in America, some lawmakers are proposing to cut food stamps this year, despite the power of the program to ameliorate childhood hunger and poverty.

Every time I teach for Cooking Matters, I am blown away by the participants' enthusiasm for cooking, even when they must feed their families on an incredibly tight budget. One of my favorite items to teach in Cooking Matters class is a frittata. It's delicious, inexpensive, and a great way to use leftover ingredients. It can even be made ahead--in class, we often cook individual frittatas in muffin tins to show that they can be reheated in seconds for a fast breakfast. If there's even a small amount of smoked meat, skeptical kids suddenly seem interested. My most recent frittata at home included spinach, onion, smoked turkey and cheddar, all items threatening to go bad in the fridge. Yum.

Anytime Frittata

Serves 4.

8 eggs
2 T. light cream or milk

1/2 t. salt, or to taste
1 grind of black pepper, or to taste
2-3 T. olive oil

2 c. chopped veggies (red pepper, corn, spinach, broccoli, zucchini, mushroom, onion, scallions)
1/4 c. diced ham, turkey, turkey bacon, or bacon
1/2 c. shredded sharp cheese (cheddar, fontina, feta)

In a bowl, beat together eggs, cream, salt and pepper. Set aside.

In a large oven proof skillet, heat 1 T. oil on medium high heat. Add raw veggies and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Remove from pan.

Add another 1-2 T. oil to the pan and heat on medium high heat. Swirl around the pan to coat the sides. Add egg mixture to the pan. Sprinkle meat, vegetables, and cheese around the eggs. Cook on the stove top until bottom is set but top is still runny, about 5 minutes.

Heat broiler. Remove pan from the stovetop and place under the broiler. Cook frittata until eggs are set and top is slightly browned, about 5-7 minutes.

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