“Isn’t it so exciting?” said Giselle Ankrah, 10, a sixth grader at Robert B. Pollock School in Northeast Philadelphia, as she and her classmates began an after-school cooking class. “We watch all these cooking shows, but we never actually get to cook. Now we’re really doing it!”

“OMG, I just smelled the veggies,” said fellow cooking student, Khalih Perry, 11, taking in the scent of onions and peppers sautéing on the stove. “They smelled so good and I don’t even like veggies.”

Enrique Georges-Roth, 11, and Dayshaun Toth, 12, chop turkey sausage during the final cooking class and celebration at Robert B. Pollock Elementary School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on Tuesday, November 26, 2019. Throughout the semester the students learned different cooking techniques and recipes.
MONICA HERNDON / Staff Photographer
Enrique Georges-Roth, 11, and Dayshaun Toth, 12, chop turkey sausage during the final cooking class and celebration at Robert B. Pollock Elementary School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on Tuesday, November 26, 2019. Throughout the semester the students learned different cooking techniques and recipes.

There are so many moments of joy when teaching schoolchildren how to cook with fresh ingredients. And we saw that over and over again during the fall semester of My Daughter’s Kitchen healthy cooking program, in which more than 100 children in 21 urban schools in Philadelphia, Camden, and Chester were taught basic cooking and nutrition over eight weeks by some 50 volunteers, most of them Inquirer readers.

My Daughter’s Kitchen


The mission: To teach schoolchildren to cook healthy, easy meals on a budget.


The reach: Some 50 volunteers are teaching at 21 schools in Philadelphia, Camden, and Chester.


The partners: Many thanks to Holman Enterprises, P.J. Whelihan’s, P.J. Clarke’s, Stephen Starr, CLR Design, and other individual donors for making the program possible.


To donate: Contributions may be sent to My Daughter’s Kitchen, 249 Rhoads Ave., Haddonfield, NJ 08033.

Now in its sixth year, the mission of the program, based on lessons I taught my own daughter, is to encourage children to cook healthy, easy-to-prepare, affordable dinners for themselves and their families, with an eye toward using less salt, fat, sugar, and processed ingredients.

With the rising popularity of prepared foods, cooking, like so many traditions, has faded from the lives of many American families. But given the opportunity, students in these classes, starting from the age of 10, are so eager to learn to cook: “I can’t wait to chop, chop, and chop!” said Joshua Mathew, a fifth grader at Watson Comly Elementary in the Northeast, before one class.

Khalil Perry Jr., 11, chops onions during the final cooking class and celebration at Robert B. Pollock Elementary School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on Tuesday, November 26, 2019. Throughout the semester students learned different cooking techniques and recipes.
MONICA HERNDON / Staff Photographer
Khalil Perry Jr., 11, chops onions during the final cooking class and celebration at Robert B. Pollock Elementary School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on Tuesday, November 26, 2019. Throughout the semester students learned different cooking techniques and recipes.

And so happy to sit down and share the meal: “I like eating together like we do,” said Darius Berge, 10, at Bayard Taylor School in North Philadelphia, as he and his classmates were sharing a meal they prepared.

The meals are not fancy: We made dishes such as chicken tortilla soup, tuna melts, roast chicken, and sweet potato fries this semester, but each recipe was decidedly more exciting — and challenging — than heating up a can of soup or microwaving mac and cheese.

(left to right) Giselle Ankrah, 10, Qian Liu, 11, and Dilys Ankrah, 6, make jelly doughnut muffins during the final cooking class and celebration at Robert B. Pollock Elementary School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on Tuesday, November 26, 2019. Throughout the semester the students learned different cooking techniques and recipes.
MONICA HERNDON / Staff Photographer
(left to right) Giselle Ankrah, 10, Qian Liu, 11, and Dilys Ankrah, 6, make jelly doughnut muffins during the final cooking class and celebration at Robert B. Pollock Elementary School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on Tuesday, November 26, 2019. Throughout the semester the students learned different cooking techniques and recipes.

These classes demystify the process and techniques of cooking from scratch. Students at La Salle Academy in Kensington were surprised by how easy it was to make homemade tomato sauce for spaghetti with turkey sausage. “They were amazed how fresh and delicious it tasted with just a few ingredients,” said volunteer Maureen Barrett.

That spaghetti — made with onions, garlic, crushed tomatoes, chicken stock, thyme, and basil — was an all-time favorite for the kids at Philadelphia Montessori Charter School in Southwest Philadelphia, who were confident they could make it themselves at home.

Giselle Ankrah, 10, puts more sauce on the spaghetti during the final cooking class and celebration at Robert B. Pollock Elementary School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on Tuesday, November 26, 2019. The students prepared a meal of spaghetti and jelly doughnut muffins to serve to their parents.
MONICA HERNDON / Staff Photographer
Giselle Ankrah, 10, puts more sauce on the spaghetti during the final cooking class and celebration at Robert B. Pollock Elementary School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on Tuesday, November 26, 2019. The students prepared a meal of spaghetti and jelly doughnut muffins to serve to their parents.

And indeed, that pasta dish was the meal chosen by the students at Pollock and many other schools for their last class, when they cooked dinner for family and friends. The other meals chosen for the dinner party class were turkey and mushroom tacos and buttermilk roast chicken with sweet potato fries.

Over the course of several weeks, these kids build real skills. They become comfortable with and gain respect for sharp knives and hot stoves, but they also develop a sense of their palates along the way.

“Where is the kosher salt?” asked Enrique Georges-Roth, 11, after tasting the simmering tomato sauce at Pollock. “We need a flavor booster.”

Giselle Ankrah, 10, talks with her mom Rose Owusu during the final cooking class and celebration at Robert B. Pollock Elementary School in Philadelphia on Nov. 26, 2019. Throughout the semester the students learned different cooking techniques and recipes.
MONICA HERNDON / Staff Photographer
Giselle Ankrah, 10, talks with her mom Rose Owusu during the final cooking class and celebration at Robert B. Pollock Elementary School in Philadelphia on Nov. 26, 2019. Throughout the semester the students learned different cooking techniques and recipes.

Students at Community Partnership School in North Philadelphia were surprised how much flavor the mushrooms, peppers, and onions added to the turkey tacos. They chose to include both soft and hard-shell tortillas, and added a recipe from an earlier week — homemade guacamole and chips — as a perfect accompaniment.

CPS student Joseph Hale III even got his dad to try the guacamole, which he doesn’t usually eat, echoing a lesson the students learned: be willing to try something new, which is always more appealing when you make it yourself or when it is homemade for you.

Khalil Perry Jr., 11, tastes the pasta sauce during the final cooking class and celebration at Robert B. Pollock Elementary School.
MONICA HERNDON / Staff Photographer
Khalil Perry Jr., 11, tastes the pasta sauce during the final cooking class and celebration at Robert B. Pollock Elementary School.

Nequava Matthews said her son Khalil, who had once wanted only chicken nuggets, has become much more adventurous in his eating and much more active in the kitchen since taking the class, even with cleanup. And he is even suggesting ingredients, she said. “The other day he’s asking me to add cilantro,” she said. “I’m like, ‘Wait, what?’”

Over the years the students have made many requests for things they would like to make, but none more frequent than for cakes, cupcakes, doughnuts, and desserts. This semester’s dessert recipe for jelly “doughnut” muffins is not quite like real doughnuts, but a healthier version that kids can make at home. (One family liked them so much, they made them for Thanksgiving!)

What I love seeing, and what is illustrated at the last meal, is how much cooking and eating together binds family and friends. Older brothers and sisters came back for the final party at Bayard Taylor, younger siblings pitched in at Pollock to help prepare, and at William H. Loesche and other schools, children in lower grades are already asking to sign up for the class.

Dilys Ankrah, 6, eats spaghetti during the final cooking class and celebration at Robert B. Pollock Elementary School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on Tuesday, November 26, 2019. Throughout the semester the students learned different cooking techniques and recipes.
MONICA HERNDON / Staff Photographer
Dilys Ankrah, 6, eats spaghetti during the final cooking class and celebration at Robert B. Pollock Elementary School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on Tuesday, November 26, 2019. Throughout the semester the students learned different cooking techniques and recipes.

Hearing parents extol the cooking skills of their kids is the ultimate joy.

“Enrique is cooking so much more and we encourage it,” said his dad Michael Oxley. “I like to cook, but my style is more the working man’s meal. And I have to tell you, I have been schooled. I was schooled right at the supermarket, with him asking for goat cheese for the ratatouille. I was like, ‘Goat cheese? Is that with the regular cheese?’ He cooked ratatouille and spaghetti and sausage. And we were blown away. And I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it, the prep, the cooking, the serving. It was such a wonderful thing.”

Contact Maureen Fitzgerald at mydaughterskitchen@gmail.com. Read about other classes at inquirer.com/mydaughter.

Spaghetti with Turkey Sausage


Makes 6 servings


1 pound whole-grain spaghetti (such as Barilla or Ronzoni)

Salt

1 pound turkey sausages, punctured with a fork or the tip of a paring knife

2 white onions, peeled and roughly diced

5 cloves garlic, crushed and peels removed

1 bunch fresh thyme or 1 pinch dried thyme

1 cup chicken stock

One 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes with basil

½ bunch fresh basil, chiffonaded, a few sprigs reserved for garnish

2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated


In large stockpot, bring 8 quarts water seasoned with 1 tablespoon salt to a boil. Cook the pasta, stirring frequently, according to package directions. Drain, then run under cold water until cooled completely. Toss ½ tablespoon of the olive oil into the pasta to prevent sticking. Set aside.


While the water comes to a boil, place a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Drizzle 1 tablespoon olive oil into pan and allow to heat through. Dry the sausage completely with a paper towel. Sear on both sides, browning the skin. Be careful as moisture from the sausage may cause the oil to sizzle and pop. Once seared, remove the sausage and set aside. Reduce the heat to low. Add the onion, garlic, and thyme to the pan. Cook until the onions are translucent. Add the chicken stock, followed by the crushed tomatoes. Season with salt.


Return the sausage to the pan to finish cooking in sauce. Cook over low heat, uncovered, for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.


Turn off the heat, and the sausage from the sauce and place on a cutting board. Allow to rest.


Add the basil to the sauce.


Slice the sausage on a bias, each about 1⁄4-inch thick. Return sausage to sauce. Add the cooked pasta to the sauce, tossing with tongs. Heat the sauce, sausage, and pasta over medium-low until warm throughout. Taste and season with salt. Use tongs to twist portions into each guest’s bowl, finishing each serving with grated Parmesan cheese and a floret of fresh basil.


Per Serving: 550 calories, 24 grams fat, 60 milligrams cholesterol, 700 milligrams sodium, 60 grams carbohydrates, 12 grams dietary fiber, 10 grams sugar, 26 grams protein.

 

Jelly Doughnut Muffins


Makes 12 muffins


12 cupcake liners

2 cups all-purpose flour

1½ teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon, divided

¾ cup plus ⅓ cup white sugar, divided

¼ cup canola oil

1 large egg, room temperature

¾ cup whole milk

¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons of your favorite jam

4 tablespoons unsalted butter


Heat oven to 350°F. Prepare a muffin tin with cupcake liners.


In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, 1 teaspoon of the cinnamon, and the salt.


In a large bowl, whisk together ¾ of the sugar, the oil and egg. Add the milk and whisk until smooth.


Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture and stir until just combined.


Fill each muffin tin with 2 tablespoons of batter. Spoon 1½ teaspoons of jam onto the center. Top each with another 2 tablespoons of batter.


Bake for 22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.


Melt the butter. Stir together the remaining ⅓ cup sugar and the remaining tablespoon cinnamon. Brush the muffin tops with melted butter, then sprinkle each with the cinnamon-sugar.


Per muffin: 234 calories, 9 g fat, 27 mg cholesterol, 140 mg sodium, 36 g carbohydrates, 2 g dietary fiber, 16 g sugar, 3 g protein


— adapted from Ovenly: Sweet and Salty Recipes from New York’s Most Creative Bakery (Harlequin, 2014)