Kitchen experience, or lack thereof, is often readily apparent among the young students undertaking their first recipe — this time, breakfast biscuits with scrambled eggs — in the My Daughter’s Kitchen cooking program, which last week began its spring session with some 170 urban school children across the region.
For the 65 volunteers leading these classes, the first week is also spent getting to know the kids, introducing them to safety rules of knives and stoves, and assessing their basic kitchen skills, as they begin an eight-week session, teaching them to cook easy, healthful meals on a budget.
And, as Cheryl Pfeiffer, a volunteer at St. Augustine Academy in Norristown, learned, some instructions need to be explained in explicit detail. Working with a student who had never cracked an egg before, Pfeiffer showed her how and then gave the student an egg. “She cracked it nicely,” Pfeiffer said, “right onto the floor.”
Pfeiffer advised her to hold the egg over the bowl next time, and the student mastered the egg-cracking skill. Fellow students mastered the skill of cleaning up a dropped egg.
Chopping onions was also new for some, who learned firsthand how onion vapors can sting eyes and start tears flowing. “It’s just part of cooking; you endure it and learn to chop faster,” I told the students at Wissahickon Charter School Awbury campus in Germantown, where I am teaching this semester. Though some students shied away, others embraced the task, insisting the onions were not going to win.
“I can’t get affected by these onions,” said Marsalis Boyd, a fifth grader at Wissahickon Awbury, as he gamely turned a large onion into a pile of ½-inch dice — without shedding a tear.
“Onions don’t make me cry,” said another gallant student, Khaliyl Ali at LaSalle Academy in Kensington. “I make them cry.”
The nutrition lesson for the class was the importance of eating a healthful breakfast: how studies show it helps students do better in school, maintain a healthy body weight, and avoid feeling hungry and irritable before lunch.
And though some kids admitted skipping breakfast, others, like Melanie Ronen at Wissahickon, said they regularly cooked eggs for breakfast for themselves. Still others, like classmate Egypt Scott, had grandmothers who cooked eggs before school.
So, for those who already knew how to scramble eggs, baking biscuits from scratch held the appeal … for some.
“We are making our own biscuits? But you can just buy them in the store,” said A’Zon Young at Wiggins Elementary in Camden. Teacher Edith Bobb explained how it can be healthier and more cost-effective to prepare your own meals with fresh ingredients, succinctly summarizing the mission of the program.
These biscuits, made with flour, butter, milk, and fat-free Greek yogurt, pack more protein, less fat, and fewer calories than traditional biscuits, without the extra preservatives in fast food and processed varieties. They can also be made with white whole-wheat flour, as one volunteer suggested, to add more fiber.
And though it would be a challenge to make these biscuits in the morning before school, they could be made in advance and frozen, then warmed quickly.
Suzanne Penn, my cooking partner at Wissahickon, supervised the making of the biscuits and let the kids decide whether they would prefer one large biscuit or two smaller ones, even knowing it would complicate the process with varied baking times.
Many students remarked on how much they loved working with their hands, mixing the butter into the flour and getting the dough to the right consistency. “Making the dough for the biscuits was my favorite part,” said Maeve Taffee at Comly Elementary in Northeast Philadelphia. "It felt weird when it stuck between my fingers.”
For me, the joy of teaching kids to cook is seeing understanding building, but also watching them enjoy the sensory pleasures.
“Suriyah, come and smell this, it smells so good,” Egypt said to classmate Suriyah Washington to take in the lovely aroma as she was stirring the onions and peppers on the stove.
“I see how it’s all coming together in clumps,” said Morgan Pettiford, remembering how we had discussed the word curds while reading the recipe.
Another bonus is seeing old traditions through the eyes of another generation. When I showed the students how to set the table, with the fork on the left and knife and spoon on the right, Marsalis wondered why.
“Do you have to do it like that?" he asked.
“You don’t,” I said. “But it is good to know the proper way to set a table, if you are in a situation where you need to do that.”
“Oh, I get it,” he replied. “Like in case you have a fashion party and everyone is uptighty.”
“Precisely,” I said.
In the end, the breakfast biscuits got good marks. “From 1 to 10, I think the biscuits are 100,000,000!” wrote Egypt. Some loved the addition of onions and peppers to the eggs, but others would rather leave them out, which, of course, is an option when making them at home. Others suggested adding cheese to the recipe, another option.
Perhaps most gratifying to me was the pride of accomplishment as documented by students in their journals:
“I learned how to make some good biscuits,” wrote Suriyah. “I felt proud of myself!”
“This class made me feel skilled,” wrote Morgan, “because I read off a recipe book and then I made it right off the bat.”
Makes 12 biscuits, or 6 servings
For the biscuits:
1½ cups all-purpose flour or white whole-wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup butter, cold, cut into ½-inch squares
½ cup plain, no-fat Greek yogurt
About ¾ cup whole milk
For the scrambled eggs:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 green pepper, cut into ½-inch dice
1 onion, cut into ½-inch dice
One dozen eggs
Salt and pepper, to taste
- To make the biscuits, heat oven to 450.
- In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
- Add the butter and work it into the flour mixture with your fingers. You are finished when the butter pieces are the size of small peas.
- Stir the yogurt into the flour with a fork. Then add the milk, a little at a time, stirring as you go. If the dough starts to pull away from the bowl and sticks to your fingers, you have enough milk. If the dough isn’t sticky, add a little more milk until it is.
- Using a heaping tablespoon or an ice cream scoop, spoon out the dough and drop it onto an ungreased baking sheet, dividing it to make 12 even biscuits.
- Bake the biscuits in the center of the oven, until lightly brown, about 10 to 12 minutes.
- While the biscuits are baking, make the eggs. Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium low heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the chopped peppers and saute, about 4 minutes, then add the onions and saute until soft, about two or three more minutes.
- Crack the eggs into a large bowl and whisk them. Pour the eggs into the skillet. Let them set for 20 seconds and then stir until they form curds and are cooked through. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.
- Take the biscuits out of the oven and let them cool slightly. Slice each biscuit in half and then spoon the scrambled egg mixture between the two halves. Enjoy.
Per serving (for two breakfast biscuits):