This week we said goodbye to the rec room, aged toaster oven, wobbly tables, and alas to all of the regular students. Venice Community Housing’s newly renovated building on Rose Avenue in Venice had opened with a beautiful, airy, newly built kitchen. I’d submitted a wish list for kitchen equipment that a generous donor had almost completely filled. Unwrapping the brand-new pots, pans, and utensils, I felt like a delighted kid on Christmas morning.
As I prepped for class, 8 people who had been homeless until 2 weeks ago wandered in to join me. My mission had been to teach cooking to homeless or foster-care youth, but the students who showed up today varied from teenage to craggy. First came Gabriella, who couldn’t stop chatting, then Mame in her hand painted boots, stars and stripes cowboy hat and colorful Ghanaian basket filled with cherished items. Next hungover Lena wandered in, followed by an energetic and refined for-this-crowd Phillippe, sporting an indigo blue afro. Kayden quietly stood nearby. These 5 turned out to be enthusiastic active participants. Three others stayed on the sidelines, more interested in eating than cooking. Not who I was expecting, but their wild, distinctive personalities intrigued me.
Mame and Gabriella cut and chopped most of our vegetables, but allowed Phillippe to try his hand at mincing cilantro, pumpkin seeds and serrano chilis for the Mexican pesto. Kayden saved the meal several times, jumping in to stir the pot of chili whenever I got distracted. And Lena was our dedicated taster, passing judgement on whether the chocolate sauce needed more sugar or cinnamon, and if the chili wanted more salt.
Before the 5 active students made their own Mexican Pizzas, they insisted on cooking one for each of their new friends who had declined to be involved. Then they went to work creating their own masterpieces, adding the toppings that appealed to them most. Their creativity bloomed fully when it came to making ice cream sundaes, first for the eater-only crowd, then with glee for themselves. We’d prepared a smorgasbord of ice creams and condiments, from vanilla ice cream to dairy-free cookies-and-cream frozen dessert, then bowls of fresh berries, colorful chocolate sprinkles, chopped peanut butter cup candies, toasted almonds, walnut pieces and crumbled homemade chocolate chip cookies. I couldn’t stop smiling when Phillippe asked if he could eat the last cookie, swooned with pleasure, and asked when we’d be baking more in class. And finally, the warm, homemade chocolate sauce, spiked with cinnamon and saved from scorching by the ever-watchful Kayden!
So, it wasn’t all kids, Kareem hadn’t shown up, even though he had moved to this residence, but boy did we all have a great time, forming a new community of friends over good, fresh food.
- 6 corn tortillas
- Olive oil
- Pesto sauce- purchased, or homemade Cilantro Pesto (see recipe below)
- 2 cups about 6 oz grated cheese such as Mexican blend, Mozzarella, Jack, or Cheddar cheese
- Chopped red bell pepper
- Grape or cherry tomatoes, cut in halves or quarters
- Chopped red onion
- Minced jalapeno or serrano chilis
- Sliced or chopped olives
- Small cooked shrimp
- Diced avocado
- Hot Sauce
- Chopped fresh cilantro
- Fresh arugula or thinly sliced cabbage
- Heat a griddle or heavy large skillet over medium heat. Brush one side of a tortilla with olive oil and place oiled side down on the griddle. Repeat with as many more tortillas as will fit on the griddle in a single layer. Spread about 1 tablespoon pesto over each tortilla, then sprinkle each tortilla with about ⅓ cup grated cheese. Top with additions of your choice. Cook until the bottoms brown and the cheese melts, reducing the heat to medium-low if browning too quickly, about 4 minutes.
- Transfer the flatbreads to a cutting board. Sprinkle with cilantro, arugula or cabbage. Cut each into 4 wedges and serve right away. Repeat cooking with the remaining ingredients.
- ¼ cup packed roughly chopped fresh cilantro
- 2 tablespoons toasted pumpkin seeds
- 2 tablespoons grated Cotija or Parmesan cheese
- 2 teaspoons minced jalapeno chile
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Black pepper
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
To make with a food processor:
- Combine the cilantro, pumpkin seeds, cheese, jalapeno, salt, and pepper in a food processor. Finely chop, using on/off turns. With the machine running, slowly add the oil and process until incorporated. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
To make with a knife:
- Place cilantro, pumpkin seeds, chile and salt on a work surface. Chop finely. Transfer to a small bowl. Mix in the cheese and olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be made 1 week ahead. Place in a covered container andrefrigerate.)
Two Bean and Sausage Chili
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large red onion, chopped
- 1 large red bell pepper, cut into ½-inch pieces
- Salt and black pepper
- 2 sausages such as Habanero and Green Chile, about 6 oz total, cut into ½-inch pieces
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon chili powder, especially ancho chili powder
- Pinch of red pepper flakes
- 1 15- oz can kidney beans, with liquid
- 1 15 oz can white kidney beans, with liquid
- 2 14.5- oz cans diced and fired roasted tomatoes with green chilies
- 1½ cups water, or more as needed
- ¾ cup Greek yogurt
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
- 1½ teaspoons grated lime zest
- Salt and black pepper
For the Chili:
- Heat the oil in a large saucepan or pot over medium heat. Add the onion and bell pepper, sprinkle with salt and pepper and sautéed until the onion begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the sausages and sauté until beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the cumin, coriander, chili powder, and red pepper flakes. Cook until the spices are fragrant, about 1 minute. Mix in both cans of beans with their liquid, tomatoes, and 1½ cups water.
- Bring the chili to a boil. Reduce the heat so the mixture simmers, and cook until it thickens and flavors blend, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Thin with additional water if the chili is too thick. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, prepare the Topping:
- Combine the yogurt, lime juice, and lime zest in a small bowl and mix to blend. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Spoon the chili into bowls. Top each with a dollop of the yogurt topping and serve.
Ice Cream Sundaes with Chocolate Sauce
Chocolate Sauce, about 1 cup
- ½ cup dark chocolate chips
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon, optional
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1-2 tablespoons sugar or brown sugar
- Vanilla chocolate and/or strawberry ice cream, or any flavor you like
- Toppings of choice- sprinkles M&Ms, chopped nuts, berries, sliced bananas, whipped cream, cookie crumbs, crushed peppermint candies, toasted coconut
For the sauce:
- Combine the chocolate and cream in a saucepan. Stir over low heat just until the chocolate melts and the sauce is smooth. Mix in cinnamon, vanilla and as much sugar as tastes good to you. Remove from heat, and use sauce warm.
For the sundaes:
- Scoop ice cream into bowls. Spoon warm sauce over. Add toppings of your choice and enjoy!