A Year in Review

Wow!  It’s really June?  Another school year can be crossed off the perpetual calendar?  Despite the occasional days and weeks that drag from time to time, every school year seems to begin and end in a flash.  This year is no different.  Well, actually it was different but for other reasons.  Next year, most certainly, will be even more different.  But for now, it’s time to focus on this year, and the great kids I had the chance to teach.  Here’s a look back at some of the fun we had this year.  Thanks, guys!  I truly hope it meant something to you.  I’d love for you to post a comment about something you learned, a recipe you loved, or anything else you have to say about our time together.  Have a great summer!

Click on the picture to view a picture slideshow!

 

A focus on meal planning

I realize that not everyone thinks about food as much as I do.  I wish it could fall off my radar every once and awhile.  However, because food is part of my profession and what I have to talk about 5 days a week, the topic rarely escapes my mind.  This week in Food Fundamentals cooking and eating food has not been the primary focus for once. Instead, we’ve been covering another angle of the story:  meal planning.

The planning of meals is something that a lot people take for granted.  How many of us eat “on the fly”, grabbing whatever is close, convenient, and/or edible?  Dietitians remind us, though, that planning for meals will help us make healthier choices therefore achieving better health and smaller waistlines.  Financial planners preach that creating a food budget will result in less spending by minimizing those on-the-fly meal choices, whether it be through a fast food window or a last-minute trip to the grocery store.  I believe it.

So what’s involved in meal planning?  I emphasized to my students four areas that should be considered when planning out meals.  Cost, preparation, variety, and presentation.  We then brainstormed some specific things to consider within each of those topics.  Here’s what we came up with:

Cost Preparation 

 

Variety

 

Presentation

 

What’s your budget? 

Sale prices

Cost per serving

 

 

How long will it to make? 

How much time do I have?

Do my skills match the recipe?

Equipment needed

 

In color 

Food groups

Textures

Tastes

Temperature

 

How will the food look served together? 

How will the food be served?  Buffet?  Family-style?

Do you want to create a theme with decorations/etc.?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, with all that said, please know that all these aspects may not be taken into consideration every meal.  For example, in planning my family’s weeknight meals, I am not concerned with presentation, but I am thinking about cost, preparation, and serving balanced meals.  On any given week, you may need to compromise in some of the areas.  The point is you realize these principles are important and consider them when appropriate and possible.

By the end of the course, my students should not only know how to cook and maintain safety in the kitchen, but also how to plan and execute meals wisely.  And that’s why we’re spending time creating menus, evaluating meals, and creating meal plans within a budget.  It’s real life.  Yep.  That’s why I’m here in room 145.

 

A Tribute to My Students

Something struck me the other day:  I really like my job.  In a time when jobs are hard to come by and positions are being cut, I’m one of the fortunate ones.  I know that.  More than that, I feel blessed to have a job that I actually enjoy.  A little deeper self-reflection reveals what I love most about being a teacher:  the kids.  Hands-down, it’s the kids.  Because I taught in the middle school for many years and then transferred to the high school last year, I’ve had the unique opportunity to teach some of these kids as many as three different times.  That has allowed me to see growth and make connections, making every day that much more enjoyable.

Every day at least one of my students surprises me.   Whether it’s a sincere “how was your weekend?” or a stellar performance in the kitchen, these kids are great.  Yes, there are moments when you may find me reprimanding in an exasperated tone, shaking my head in disappointment, or giving “the look”, but for the most part, I am impressed with the quality of kid I teach.  They are funny, sensitive, moody, dramatic, and usually eager-to-please.  Ever-reaching for the coveted “5” in the grade book, most of my students work hard and take pride in their creations.  Their eagerness to share with me and win my thumbs-up proves this.

You don’t have to look far to find negative press on teenagers.  It’s there.  But despite all the goofiness, attitude, and reluctance these kids exude, we should cut them some slack.  After all, the human brain isn’t fully developed until early adulthood (www.actforyouth.net ).  The frontal lobe where decision-making is based is the last to develop.  No wonder these guys do silly (sometimes downright dangerous) things sometimes!  I am not making excuses for them, nor do I want them to say, “My frontal lobe isn’t developed yet” every time they make a mistake.  But I think we need to recognize these kids for who they are most of the time, not for the mistakes they make some of the time.   In doing so, you might just find you like these guys as much as I do.  Just look at those faces!  What’s not to love?

So here’s to my students who make everyday different! Your energy, moodiness, drama, sarcasm, and vulnerability make me want to come to work everyday. When you disappoint me, frustrate me, or otherwise drive me crazy, know that I won’t hold it against you.  Be you, do your best, make good choices, and keep surprising me.

Students (and other readers), subscribe to this blog by entering your email address on the right and receive extra credit.  Subscribe AND comment, and you’ll be entered to win a batch of my homemade monster cookies!

Eat Your Veggies…and Brownies?

veggiesA common objective of Food Fundamentals and Baking Techniques is to develop an understanding of healthy eating.  To expect that all students leave my classes with the resolve to never eat a bit of unhealthy food again would be over-shooting, to say the least.  I will also be the first to point out that a lot of what we make in class cannot be considered health food.  However, when the opportunity arises, I make sure to emphasize the importance of wise food choices, and the impact those choices can have on students’ current and future health.

Currently in Food Fundamentals we are studying vegetables—what they are, where they come from, how to prepare them, and how to incorporate them into our diets.  I’m not shocked to hear many students say they don’t like vegetables and can’t remember the last time they ate one.  French fries don’t count.  As the unit unfolds, students learn, and hopefully retain, that vegetables provide essential vitamins and nutrients.  It’s recommended we eat about 2 ½ cups of veggies a day.  We also discuss what happens to a vegetable as it’s cook.  Two things strip veggies of nutrients our bodies crave—heat and water.  Knowing that allows us to choose cooking methods such as steaming or sauteing which retain the most nutrients.  Some veggies are better than no veggies, therefore we prepare some healthy veggie dishes, and some not-so-healthy fried veggies.   Finally, I want the kids to remember to “eat the rainbow”.  No, not  the chewy colorful candies.  But a rainbow of colors of vegetables and fruits.  The colors are key to nutrients found in veggies; therefore, your plate should look Punky Brewster’s wardrobe.  (Kids, I’ve totally dated myself.  Google her.  You’ll see what I mean.)

browniesIn Baking Techniques a focus on healthy choices is a little tougher, especially during the cookie unit.  Who wants to eat a healthy cookie anyway?  Regardless, I’ve found a way to sneak a health lesson into the cookie unit.  We do an experiment of sorts.  Each group starts with a boxed brownie mix.  (One of two times throughout the whole course that we use a box mix.)  One group makes the brownies as directed on the back of the box.  But the other groups swap out the oil for one of the following:  butter, sour cream, applesauce, and plain yogurt.  Doing this lab allows us to delve into “gluten-talk” that will continue throughout the course.    It also shows the students that they have options beyond what’s on the box.  After a nutritional analysis (which requires some great math practice) and a taste test, some of the students walk away with a realization that reducing fat and calories is a real possibility.  The outcomes of the brownies are different than the control product, but showcasing the nutritional numbers together with a taste test convinces a couple that full-fat isn’t always necessary.  Will the butter and oil brownies beat out the others?  Yes, they always do in the taste category (texture, too).  But one day, saving as many as 50 calories and 9 grams of saturated fat per brownie may be important, if not essential.

I’m not a health nut and do not play one in the classroom.  But, I’m here to educate and open young minds to new and different possibilities one vegetable (or brownie) at a time.

Cake Lessons

macyClick here to see a slide show of my cakes

Some moms-to-be look forward to being called “momma”.  Some long for those little fingers to wrap around theirs.  This may sound shallow, but one of the things I looked forward to most was throwing birthday parties for my kids.  I love planning parties—the menu, the decorating, the theme.  I most enjoy coming up with a cake creation that not only tastes good, but looks good too.  I’ve never taken a cake decorating class, so I will never profess to be an expert.  However, I have researched the subject a lot, and I’m very good at searching for pretty cakes on Google Images.  Through the experience of making a cake for eight birthday parties and a few other random occasions, I’ve learned some very important lessons about the process.  My skills still need refining, and I’m hoping to be formally trained one day.  But for now, I’ll share these simple lessons-learned in hopes of making the experience for you enjoyable and less stressful.

Lesson One:  You’re not a professional

I’m not usually a perfectionist, not in the least.  However, when I bake a cake, I envision it to turn out a certain way.  In almost every instance, my cakes have not turned out exactly how I envisioned them.  The first couple times I baked and decorated, this really bothered me.  So much that I almost threw the cakes in the trash and threatened to go to Giant for a generic birthday cake.  After my husband or someone else tells me, “It looks fine. “ I let it go and serve it despite my disappointment.    In the end, my guests rarely see the imperfections I see (my kids never do), and they enjoy a good piece of cake.

Lesson Two:  Get it done early

The learning curve on this one was steep.  For my son’s first birthday, I planned to make cowboy boot cakes—one big one for guests and one little one for him to devour.  Although I had done the baking ahead of time, I saved the frosting and decorating for the day of party.  Just a couple hours before the party, I was scrambling to finish and almost in tears because it wasn’t turning out like I had hoped.  Had I prepped the cake entirely the day before, most of that stress and anxiety wouldn’t have been there, allowing me to enjoy the process more and produce a better-looking product.  When you’re baking a cake for a special occasion, do everything you can in advance.

Lesson Three:  Plan ahead

Some of you will think I’m crazy, but I’ve been known to begin the planning process months before the big (or not-so-big) day.  Like I said before, I love planning parties!  If you’re just making a cake and not throwing  a party, then obviously there isn’t so much planning involved, but I do advise you plan ahead anyway.  After all, there is a lot of consider.  How many people does the cake need to serve?  What shape do I want the cake to be–rectangle, circle, square, layered, stacked? What flavor of cake?  Icing? Decorations?  Presentation?

Choose the size, shape, and flavor of your cake early so that you can bake and freeze.  If you make the cake more than three days in advance, you’ll want to freeze the cake.  (Allow cake to cool and wrap layers individually with plastic wrap.  If possible put into a freezer-safe container.  Thaw for a couple hours before decorating.)  Once your cake is baked, you’ll need a plan for icing and decorating.  Sketch your vision or print a picture.  Trust me—this helps!  Make more frosting than you think you’ll need.  You won’t want to stop and mix up more in the middle of the process.  Make sure you have the colorings and any embellishments you might be adding.  Ensure you have all of this order before you begin, will help things to go more smoothly.

Lesson Four:  Have fun

I still struggle with this one sometimes.  I have to keep in perspective that no one is paying me to do this; I, more than anyone, care how it turns out.  Neither of my kids have ever said to me, “Mommy, I don’t like this cake.”  In fact, most of the time, I get a lot of compliments.  One time in particular I was a little embarrassed about the cake (the circus themed one), and a guest said to me. “You made it?  I thought you bought it.”  So again, you’ll be more critical than your guests.  It’s cliché, but true—it’s the thought that counts.

As you start on the cake decorating project, please keep these lessons in mind.  If it’s your first time, there will be some frustration.  But I hope you feel inspired to try again, and you’ll find it does get easier each time.  It may be easier to order a cake from a baker or grocery store, but nothing beats a homemade cake made with love.

Out of the Kitchen, Pride

Like it always does, the beginning of the school year is flying by!  Whatever great expectations I had for my blog this year were quickly thwarted by all the other stuff that demanded my attention.  Nevertheless, I did not want the marking period to slip by without recognizing something very profound that is often whipped up in the foods lab.  Much like the tempting aromas that seep out of room 145, pride has a way of simmering in the students of YSHS.

Our year started fast and furious with entries for the York Fair.  Although it was our very first lab of the course, my students were able to bring home some ribbons—first, second and third place.  The Baking Techniques students made a variety of cookies, while Food Fundamentals kicked off the preservation unit with jams and jellies.  Mistakes were made.  Lessons were learned.  But in the end, the sense of accomplishment was clear.  Fair-going students were eager to check out Old Main and see if their entry was sporting a new ribbon.   I even dragged my family through twice just to make sure I didn’t miss any winners!IMG_5856Fair1IMG_5855

Most of what the students make doesn’t get a chance to judged and awarded, unless you count, “Mrs. Feltenberger, try this. Photo0009 It’s really good!”   However, the lack of a tangible prize doesn’t stop the kids from feeling proud, and it shouldn’t.  On any given day in the foods lab, kids will say things like, “This is so good.”  “Look at ours; doesn’t it look good?”  Or “It actually turned out!”  In those moments, I, too, am proud.  I am proud when they feel success, when they show growth, and when the spark is lit enough to say to me, “Mrs. Feltenberger, you’ve got me baking a lot at home.”

IMG_5902A key ingredient to our success in the FACS department is a monthly maintenance routine.  One day out of the month, each class period is responsible for one cleaning or organizing chore in the kitchen.  Despite the moaning and groaning, the students typically do a good job.  I think some actually enjoy it a little bit but would never admit.  There is, after all, something very gratifying in seeing a dirty stovetop transformed into something pretty and pristine.  My goal as the “cooking” teacher is not only to teach the kids cooking skills but also to make sure they know the importance of maintaining a clean and organized kitchen.  I also think it’s important for students to know what it’s like to have to roll up their sleeves and do some dirty work every once and awhile.  On these chore days, it becomes very obvious who has to help with cleaning at home and who doesn’t.

A final source of pride that can’t go unnoticed has nothing to do with food or cooking.  On October 8th, our school participated in Lee’s National Denim Day to support and bring awareness to breast cancer research.  Teachers were permitted to wear jeans in return for a donation.  Staff and students who participated wore a pink ribbon as a symbol of the their concern and support.  In one day, we raised close to $700!  Now that’s something to be proud of.

“You can’t give people pride, but you can provide the kind of understanding that makes people look to their inner strengths and find their own sense of pride.” ~Charleszetta Waddles

Zucchini: A good ‘problem’ to have

IMG_5652Summer always poses its own set of problems.  Where should we go on vacation?  Which flavor of ice cream to order?  SPF 30 or SPF 50?  This summer, I’ve faced a new “problem” like many others are facing and have faced many summers past.  What do I do with all this zucchini?

I’m always excited to plant the garden, though small and unadventurous it may be.  This year I thought two zucchini plants were in order since they died off early last summer, producing few fruits.  (Yes, I said fruit.  It’s considered a fruit vegetable since it follows a plant’s blossom and contains seeds.  Nutritionally and culinarily we classify it a veggie.)  Fresh soil, optimal weather conditions, or the Zucchini Gods have blessed me heavily with zucchini this year.  I’ve harvested at least thirty, and there are still some blossoms on the vines.

Needless to say, I’ve had to get creative to deal with all this zucchini!  I’ve given plenty away and made all the zucchini bread I care to eat.  Sadly, I’m the only one in my family who likes the succulent vegetable so I’ve had to make it more of an “extra” in our meals rather than the starring role.  Most simply I’ve sliced it, brushed with olive oil and seasoned it with salt and pepper, then threw it on the grill for a few minutes each side.  Nice and easy.  I also roasted it with cubed sweet potatoes and red onions, drizzled with olive oil and tossed with fresh parsley.  Tasty.  Super hungry one night and only having myself to feed, I came up with this dish and found it to be delicious.  The fact I was starving by the time I ate it may have had something to do with how good it tasted, but I tried it a second time–this time for an audience, my family.  Although this dish did not change their minds about zucchini, I again found it be rather satisfying and tasty.  I altered it to suit their tastes better by adding Italian sausage, but I think I actually prefer it without.  Try it for yourself!

Tomato-Zucchini Rigatoni

IMG_5662

1/2 pound rigatoni (these larger tubes hold the chunky sauce well)
½ cup chopped onion
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
olive oil
Red pepper flakes
Italian sausage (optional)
3 cups freshly chopped tomatoes or 1-28 oz. can diced tomatoes
2 cups cubed zucchini
fresh basil and parsley
Parmesan cheese

Cook pasta according to package directions.  In a large sauce pan or Dutch oven, heat olive oil.  If using sausage, cook until no longer pink and remove from pan.  If omitting meat, gently saute garlic, onions, and a couple shakes of red pepper flakes until soft and fragrant.  Add zucchini and saute until slightly browned on sides.  Add diced tomatoes and salt, if desired.  Simmer, allowing some of the juice to cook down.  Return sausage to pan.  Add cooked pasta, fresh chopped basil and parsley and toss until well coated.  Serve and top with grated Parmesan cheese.

Since the growing season is apparently not over yet, I’ll have to continue to get creative with my crops.  I’ve got plans to grate much of it and sneak it into things like meatloaf, spaghetti sauce, cake, and a few casseroles.  Do you have a favorite way to use zucchini?  I’d love to hear it!

Zucchini Fun Facts:

Zucchini are 95% water and contain only 13 calories per half cup

Don’t peel!  Most nutrients are found in the skin.

One zucchini has more potassium than a banana.

The most flavorful zucchinis are small to medium sized. Don’t let them get too big!

IMG_5644

Preserving Food, Preserving Sanity

jarred picklesAs the end of the school year approaches, students and teachers alike become a bit antsy.  It’s my responsibility as the teacher to keep the kids engaged and focused on relevant tasks.  I am certainly at an advantage over many teachers–I have food on my side!  I spent many years as an English teacher battling the end-of-the-year itch that begins to surface around, say…January.  But not any more!  Not when there’s fruits and vegetables to be preserved!

As I am fully aware that not many of my students will go on to do their own canning or preserving at home, I do feel part of my obligation as a teacher is to expose students to new ideas and ways of doing things.  Preserving foods has been around for practically forever.  Whether or not this generation of kids carries on any of the traditions is yet to be seen.  What we do know is that sales of canning-related supplies was up by 11.5% in February 2009 according to Wikipedia.  During this tight-walleted time, people are wising up to the cost-effectiveness of home preservation.  Burpee Seed Company estimates that for every $50 spent on seed and fertilizer, a gardener can yield about $1250 worth of produce (freshpreserving.com).  That’s what I call a good investment!  Of course it’s not possible for a family to use all the harvested fruits and vegetables at once, so  preserving that freshly-picked produce becomes necessary.

Besides lowering your grocery bill, there are other benefits to canning and freezing food.  Because you’re most likely canning local produce, you can also support the local economy and “go green” at the same time.  Buying at neighborhood farmers’ markets or picking from your backyard saves on gas therefore benefiting the environment and our piggy banks.

The nutritional benefits of self-preserving are yet another reason to give it a try.   One message I’ve tried to ingrain in my students is that making food from scratch can create a more nutritious product.  We can control the amount of sodium, fat, and other nutrients when we’re making it in our kitchens.  We also avoid artificial additives and preservatives found in many commercial products.  I may be biased, but I’m certainly partial to the homemade taste over the artificial, overly-processed tastes found in many foods.

Finally, preserving foods is a way for families to maintain and foster traditions, recipes, and creativity.  Although I wasn’t surprised, I was disappointed to learn that only one of my student’s families still cans their own food.  If I can expose my students to something new (really, old) and get them thinking in a new direction, then I can feel accomplished.  Whether or not they will go on to continue or start a tradition is out of my control.  But the pride and satisfaction I saw as they peered at their canned pickles is enough for now.  And, it keeps us focused until that last day of school finally rolls around!

Check out some of the preservation recipes from class!

boys making picklesP2190008

Final Projects

Each class, Food Fundamentals and Baking Techniques, has a final project in the works.  The projects are course requirements, therefore, it is necessary for each student to complete the projects in order to pass the class.  To offer some suggestions and guidance, I wanted to post some things that I hope will be helpful to the completion of these projects.

First of all, you can find the actual assignment details and scoring guides on the district moodle. Once there, select “FACS”.  Then you will see the moodle for Baking Techniques and Food Fundamentals.  Click here to go to the moodle homepage.

Baking Techniques

Assignment: Create a magazine-style portfolio that highlights important baking principles learned through each unit of study.  This is also a place to compile favorite recipes made in class.  As you are putting your portfolio together, please remember the following:

  • You may use Word, PowerPoint, or a similar program.
  • You want to make your pages look as much like a magazine as possible.
  • Pay attention to font size, especially when using PowerPoint.  The default size is much larger than it needs to be for this purpose.  Remember, you’re not projecting this–it’s a magazine!
  • There are specific requirements for your cover.  See assignment sheet for details!
  • The units of study are as follows.  You must cover the important principles and techniques from each unit as well as include one recipe from each.
    • Safety and sanitation (no recipe), cookies, quick breads, yeast breads, pies and pastries, and cakes

Get creative with this and make this something you’ll hang onto for a while.  Think of it as your baking survival guide for when you’re on your own!  Don’t hesitate to ask questions.

Final due date for Baking Portfolio:  Friday, June 4th!

Food Fundamentals

Assignment:  Plan, prepare, and serve a meal at home implementing cooking and meal-planning skills learned in the course.

Here are some of the important things to keep in mind for this project:

  • Your menu must include a protein, starch, vegetable, dessert and beverage.
  • Three recipes must be included written in standard format.  “Grill steak for 10 minutes” is not a recipe!
  • Create a market order/shopping list and be sure to include cost.  Remember:  you do not figure the cost based upon the whole product but the amount used of the product!  Here’s what I mean….
    • An 8 oz. bag of shredded cheese costs $2.50.  However, the recipe calls for 1 cup of cheese (half of the bag).  The final cost used in the recipe?  $1.25.
  • Finally, this assignment is not about spending a lot of money.  In fact, I hope one of the valuable lessons you’ve learned through the course is about being a smart consumer.  The menu ideas I’ve listed below are economical yet still showcase skills and techniques learned in class.

Menu Ideas for Meal-at-Home

Yes!  You can use one of these menus for your project!

Breakfast: Egg casserole with broccoli and mushrooms (protein and vegetable), blueberry muffins (starch), fresh fruit with fruit dip (dessert), orange juice and coffee (beverage)

Lunch: Grilled cheese sandwiches (starch and protein), homemade tomato soup (vegetable), mixed berry crisp with vanilla ice cream (dessert), iced tea and water (beverage)

Dinner: Spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce and homemade meatballs (starch, protein), green salad with vinaigrette (vegetable), panna cotta (dessert), water and raspberry lemonade (beverage)

Extra Credit Options:  adding an appetizer or soup course, supplying pictures of your experience and meal, early completion

Due Date:  June 4, 2010

Please post questions or suggestions!

Pasta Economics 101

Today we started our Pasta Unit in Food Fundamentals.  It’s a favorite of mine, but who doesn’t love pasta!?  At the thought or smell of pasta most of us probably drift to a place in our minds that remembers a bowlful of fettuccine Alfredo from the Olive Garden.  Or maybe you’ve been lucky enough to eat in one of the hard-to-beat Little Italy restaurants in Baltimore or New York and have visions of piping hot homemade raviolis and lasagna.  I have say, nothing beats fresh, homemade pasta!

Even though we won’t be making our own pasta, we will be making several pasta dishes.  By the end of the unit, students should have an understanding of three things:  how to cook pasta properly for a variety of dishes, the versatility of pasta, and the economic choice that is pasta.

To kick off the unit, I demoed a very simple, very cheap dish.  Through the demo of spaghetti with garlic and olive oil, I was able to highlight some of the important concepts of the objectives above.  The recipe is as follows:

1 pound of spaghetti, cooked

6 T. olive oil

3 garlic cloves, minced

pinch of crushed red pepper flakes

4 T. fresh parsley, chopped

salt and pepper to taste

freshly grated parmesan cheese

Bring large pot of water to a boil.  Add pasta and cook until al dente (slightly firm in the center).  Meanwhile, heat olive oil     in pan and add garlic and red pepper flakes.  Saute gently until garlic is soft.  Do not allow it to brown or it will taste bitter.  Take off heat and stir in parsley.  Once the pasta is cooked, drain and add to skillet which has been turned to medium.  Toss pasta in oil until piping hot and coated.  Divide among four plates and grate parmesan over each.  YUMMY!

As I cooked, the kids did the math on the recipe.  Given the prices of each ingredient, the students broke down the cost of the amount actually used in the recipe, then took it one step further to determine the cost per serving.  The bottomline:  a mere $1.12 a serving!

Photo 8

In summary, the students should have left the room knowing how to cook and drain pasta, how economical pasta can be, and just how versatile and easy it is to prepare.  I will also take credit for the garlic breath!

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