Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Blogger Event: My Cooking Matters Class

Read Part 1 - the first day of my Cooking Matters Bloggy Boot Camp experience last week
Read Part 2 - my experience with the Cooking Matters Boot Camp here


I went to Dallas for the Bloggy Boot Camp months ago. It was only just today that I was finally able to arrange to attend a class in Chicago. I've been looking forward to this for a long time, and I'm sort of bummed it took so long to connect with the classes in the Chicago area, but I'm thrilled that I did.

I connected with Kristen Nachtwey, an Americorps Service Member, who is currently working at the Cooking Matters location in Chicago. One thing different about the Cooking Matters classes in Chicago from those in most other places is that the affiliation is with health centers rather than food banks. They still impart the same information, but the way that recruit for clients - and in some ways, the clients themselves - are a little different.

Today's class was the third week of the session where the focus was on fats - "good" fats and "bad" fats and how to cook more leanly. I'm all about that, as anyone who reads my blog regularly knows. I loved some of the conversations that we had during the class. I loved how the instructor (Kristen), the chef (Siobhan), and the nutritionist (Lindsey) allowed the students to ask questions to get the information they cared about, even if it took us a bit off topic.

I thought it was really neat how many volunteers are involved in this program - at least in Chicago. Siobhan freelances in marketing and advertising and comes from a background of being a line cook. While she's to been to culinary school, she has all the skills needed to teach the cooking parts and did a great job. Kim was another volunteer who attends the classes to help the students, clean up, and assist wherever she can. I loved all the positive reinforcement everyone in the class was able to provide.

We started the class reviewing what they had learned the week prior - a discussion of fruits and vegetables. With the three women in the class (at that time - two more new women joined later in the class and look like they'll stay to finish off the session!), I was impressed at how much they remembered about how much to eat - two and a half cups of veggies and two cups of fruits a day, etc.

The part that had me giggling - at least on the inside - was where they discussed the benefits of ingesting more fiber. It was the "3 Fs" - feeling Full, helping you Flow, and low Fat. Needless to say, the ladies remembered it, as well as the need to drink more water when increasing your fiber intake.

From there, we moved onto the cooking portion of the class, as we were making a rice dish that took lots of time to prepare. We made Haitian chicken (yum!) and a brown rice salad with everything from oranges to edamame to dried cranberries in it. Needless to say, none of us had ever had anything like this before.

This is a hands on course, and each of us (including me!) had a cutting board and knife, along with ingredients to help make the dish. I love communal cooking, as it's always so relaxing to me. Siobhan made sure to demonstrate each technique for us first and made sure we were all using good knife safety. We chopped onion, cut up chicken, and squeezed limes as well as whisking the dressing for the brown rice salad. It was good practice for everyone and hopefully will help some of the skills stick.

That said, it's amazing how quickly two hours can fly by. Although the recipes we created didn't require a ton of time to prep or cook (except for the rice, which was done in advance), we still ran out of time to really cook the chicken ourselves. There was still more of the lesson to go, so Siobhan gave us the basics of what she was going to do while we worked with Lindsey the nutritionist. She explained how and why to heat the pan and oil before putting the chicken in and how she was going to make the sauce for it. It would have been nice to be able to do that part, too, but ... time flies when we're having fun, right?

While Siobhan finished up our Haitian chicken and brown rice salad, Lindsey talked to us about fats. Lindsey is a nutritionist at the health center, typically working with pregnant and breastfeeding moms, as well as moms of kids ages one to five. She is able to jump into these classes sometimes to help out, and she had lots to say.

We walked through the good fats and bad fats in an abstract way, winding our way through the types of saturated and unsaturated fats as well as the types of cholesterol and the like. We had some great conversations about types of oil to use (yes to olive oil and safflower oil and grapeseed oil, no to Crisco and palm oil and peanut oil) and various types of lean protein from tofu to quinoa to fish and more.

As Lindsey put it, most meats can be or are lean. It's how we cook it that adds the cholesterol and fats. Think about coconut shrimp with sauce versus steamed cocktail shrimp. It's what we do to our foods that causes our problems!

Then we had the most fun part of the day. We went through the Blubber Burger exercise. We were each able to choose a typical meal at a fast food restaurant. After choosing our items, we calculated the fat in the meal. Yikes! Knowing that we're aiming for 44 to 62 grams of fat in an entire day, many of the meals were 70 or more grams of fat - for just one meal. That's still a little too abstract though, no? From there, we divided our fat grams by four and got how many teaspoons of fat. Now, we're concrete.

How concrete?

That's what 70 grams of fat looks like. That's what so many people are ingesting in one meal. I think we were all pretty grossed out, and there may be some different choices being made after that. Yum. Not. I'm more and more grateful that I chose just a bean burrito with only 10 grams of fat (a little over two spoonfuls!).

Fortunately, this exercise didn't seem to ruin our appetites. Next up was our plate of Haitian chicken and brown rice salad. It was absolutely delicious, although I have to admit that I'm not used to the richness of eating chicken thighs. I am definitely making the salad for the wee ones, as I know they'll adore it! Yum.

Yes, there were a few women who went back for seconds. It was that good, although the chicken - even with just half a Serrano pepper - was surprisingly spicy, in a good way. In Dallas, they had talked about how the class participants went home with a gift card to be able to purchase the groceries to make the meal at home again for their families to show that it's something they like, but the Chicago Cooking Matters classes can't afford that, which is a shame - I absolutely adored the idea of providing the proof of concept by that gift card.

Two hours more than flew by, as the class ran a little over, and there was so much more yet to say. I'm not sure how they manage to get through all the material every week. There is so much there and so much to learn - so much more that we covered even than I noted here. The women all feel like they're learning something, and that's really what matters, especially if they can pass it on to just one more person.

Personally, I loved seeing where the class was making a difference for the women there. One woman talked about how instead of going to snack on potato chips, she was now reaching for Cheerios instead. It's those little steps that make a difference. Another shared how she was looking at the ingredients on cereal boxes in the store to find the healthiest one and was shocked that the ones that are marketed as being super healthy aren't always. The edamame we included in the salad was new to all of them, too, and I think there are a few converts there. They were also all very interested in learning more about quinoa and possibly cooking some of that "perfect protein," too.

I definitely want to try to head to another class again. I only wish there was an option closer to me so that I could volunteer, as well. The drive into the city is a little much for me. That said, I also had the opportunity for a little interview with Kristen, the intern I worked with. That will be posted tomorrow - along with a giveaway of a Cooking Matters gift bag, so come back then.

In the meantime, what could you do to impact hunger in your community? Will you go sign the pledge to help end childhood hunger by 2015? It requires only minimal info from you (email and zip), and you'll be shown so many ways you can make an impact.

In the interest of full disclosure, ConAgra Foods Foundation paid for my travel and accommodations for the bloggy boot camp. I also received compensation for attending the event, but all opinions expressed are my own.

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