Head Start is cooking from scratch, at least in California’s Yolo County. Stephanie Gray, Nutrition Services Coordinator with Head Start, (pictured to the far left with Nasreen Shetab) is hoping soon they will be adding Russian and Middle Eastern vegetarian dishes to their repertoire.
Stephanie and her staff serve about 220 meals a day. At her request, we recently provided them with professional development cooking lessons in their kitchen, which is large and well-equipped. For the recipes, click on the highlighted names, or go to the recipes tab in the blog.
Pictured left is the Russian dish, Kartoshnik, a potato, onion, and cheese cake, which the staff found to be delicious and one they thought the students would like as well. To make the simple dish for 220 servings, the potatoes will be prepared the day before, and baked the following morning. Kartoshnik can even be served for breakfast.
Lorena Madrigal de Lopez is the Lead Cook. She is pictured to the far left with Leticia Valencia who is the cafeteria assistant right behind her. Lorena mixed the easy, quick batter with her gloved hands. When the savory cake was baked, they plated the Kartoshnick with a garnish of sour cream and green onion. Nasreen Shetab, Site Supervisor for West Sacramento Head Start and originally from Afghanistan -of Stephanie’s staff, taught us all how to pronounce Kartoshnik correctly, and also cooked the basmati rice in her country’s style. In our experience, there is frequently someone on staff from whom an original recipe can come. In this case we suggested to Stephanie that Nasreen probably could provide several of her own recipes.
Kayla Lebhart is the cook who prepared the Couscous with Fresh Apricots and Almonds, along with cafeteria assistant, Beatriz Manzo. The staff told us they are already cooking from scratch white beans from dried beans, making chicken posole, and soups such as lentil and tomato, as well as green enchiladas, burritos and refried beans.
We started the cooking lesson with an introduction to the whole spices used in the two flavor profiles that we were covering – Middle Eastern and Eastern European,
showing a map, and the spices. We used a spice grinder (a dedicated small coffee grinder) to freshly grind the whole spices, such as cinnamon, clove, and cumin and passed them around for the staff to smell, touch and taste. This simple step of grinding spices, we explained, adds more flavor to your dish. Pictured left is the spice tray showing the freshly ground spices. In the school district kitchens we teach in, we recommend they have such a grinder on hand.
Pictured left is Hummus with Summer Vegetables, made by Connie Luna, the Site Coordinator for the preschool site where we prepared the food. She worked with the Cafeteria Assistant, Martha Jimenez to prepare the hummus dip. They worked hard on the proportions — and did a beautiful presentation in this colorful bowl.
In our classes, we always have staff sample what they make, pictured at left, and then we talk about whether it would work in their program. Staff also present the dishes they currently make, talking about how the dishes were prepared, the ingredients used and the level of ease in preparation. Regarding the Cauliflower Curry with Basmati Rice (right hand corner), staff commented on how colorful the curry was, all the dishes really, and how much their students love color. Other dishes included Couscous with Fresh Apricots and Almonds, and Hummus with Summer Fresh Vegetables.
Stephanie Gray and her Head Start staff are participating in a Yolo County Farm to School Specialty Crop Grant from the California Department of Food and Agriculture to increase the use of California’s 200 plus specialty crops in school meals.
Head Start is a federal program, administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Head Start promotes the school readiness of children from low income families ages birth to 5 years by enhancing their cognitive, social and emotional development. We were very interested to learn from Stephanie that Head Start prepares and serves breakfast and lunch under a far less complicated, time consuming and prescriptive set of regulations and reporting requirements than do school districts. We think that’s a good thing, especially when people like Stephanie and her staff use that freedom to cook from scratch.