As I was setting up for today’s class, who should saunter in but Kareem, one of the first to take my classes, and the person who has attended the most. I felt honored that after he had gotten settled into his new home here at Venice Community Housing’s Rose Avenue residence, he decided to rejoin our group. I was also happy I was making strawberry shortcake again. Kareem had been very interested when we discussed it at the last class he attended, and because none of the current students were present when I made it before, I wanted this group to get to taste the authentic item. In addition to the entire dessert, they’d learn to make biscuits, which they can eat for breakfast or at dinner, and homemade whipped cream, which is good on anything, especially fresh fruit.
But I’m jumping ahead. Today’s main course was a simple chicken sauté, with lots of vegetables and variations. Shaylah, a new girl, was quick to inform us she doesn’t eat vegetables. Part of my mission, however, is to teach healthful cooking, so I persisted in the hopes she and the others would learn to like fresh, well-seasoned and properly cooked produce. Mame and Gabriella got right to work cutting the vegetables, while Kareem was happy to try out the brand new, very large and sharp chef’s knife someone had generously donated on the chicken.
During the cutting and prepping, an angry young man appeared on the patio right outside the kitchen, yelling and brandishing a large wrench. Ever attentive Kayden jumped up and headed to the building’s office to get help. After a big kerfuffle with a lot of shouting and threatening body language, the angry man was subdued, but the focus in the class was broken. I tried to continue teaching about vegetables, when Shaylah interrupted, speaking about her need for time to calm down after the threatening event. I appreciated her frankness, and let the conversation switch from cooking to some of the challenges of living in a home for people who were sleeping on the street just three weeks ago. Kayden talked about how difficult it is for many who were used to lots of space to settle into living inside, close to others, in a community with social expectations.
Eventually we got back on course, as everyone had a turn at whisking the heavy cream into billowy whipped cream for dessert. The students asked, as you might, why we weren’t using an electric mixer to whip the cream. The answer: I don’t expect anyone in these classes to buy an electric mixer anytime soon.
Caterina, a new student, gave the most gratifying smile as she ate the strawberry shortcake, and proclaimed she’d like to become a chef. Bingo!
Chicken Sauté with Vegetables and Lemon
- 10 ounces skinless, boneless chicken breasts
- Salt and pepper
- All-purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons about olive oil
- 1 pound zucchini or yellow summer squash, trimmed, halved lengthwise, and then cut crosswise into ½-inch thick slices, or other fresh vegetable cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 4 green onions, sliced or 3 tablespoons minced onion
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- Optional flavorings such as ½ to 1 tablespoon pesto sauce, ¼ teaspoon ground cumin, ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes, 1 tablespoon minced fresh herbs (like parsley, thyme, tarragon, basil, cilantro)
- Cut the chicken crosswise into ½-inch thick slices. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Spread some (about 2 tablespoons) flour on a plate. Dredge chicken in flour to coat.
- Heat 1½ tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the chicken and cook until just cooked through (feels springy to touch and opaque in the center), about 1½ minutes on each side. Transfer the chicken to a clean plate.
- Add 1½ tablespoons oil to the skillet and increase the heat to medium-high. Add the vegetables. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and sauté until no longer look raw on the outside, stirring frequently, about 2 minutes. Add the broth and bring to a boil, stirring up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Cover the pan and boil until the vegetables are almost tender, about 3 minutes for zucchini.
- Return the chicken to the pan. Add the green onions and lemon and simmer until the sauce thickens and coats the chicken, stirring constantly, about 2 minutes. Add any optional flavorings. Taste and adjust the salt and pepper. Serve right away.
Long Grain White Rice
- 2 cups water
- 1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup long grain white rice
- Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Add the butter and salt, then stir in the rice. Return the water to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook until all the liquid is absorbed, 17-20 minutes (probably longer if making a larger quantity.) When all the liquid is absorbed, turn off the heat and let the rice stand covered for about 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve.
- 1 16- ounce basket plus 1 8-ounce basket strawberries, hulled, sliced
- 1/3 cup sugar, or more to taste
- 2 cups all-purpose flour or gluten-free flour blend such as King Arthur Measure for Measure flour
- 3 tablespoons sugar, plus more to sprinkle
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup 1 stick cold unsalted butter, sliced
- ¾ cup milk mixed with 2 teaspoons vinegar, or ¾ cup buttermilk or Kefir with no vinegar
- 1 tablespoon cream or melted butter
- 1 cup cold heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
For the berries:
- Combine the berries and 1/3 cup sugar in a bowl. Toss to blend. Let stand at least 30 minutes to allow juices to form, stirring occasionally. Taste and add more sugar if desired.
For the biscuits:
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. Cover a baking pan with foil, butter the foil.
- In a large bowl, combine the flour, 3 tablespoons sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk to blend. Add ½ cup cold butter. Squeeze the butter and flour together with finger tips until the texture of a coarse meal. Add the milk and mix with a fork until the dough comes together, adding a little more milk if dry and a little more flour if wet. Gently knead briefly in the bowl to combine all the ingredients.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Pat into a ¾” thick square or rectangle. Cut into 8 squares, cutting straight down without using a sawing motion. Transfer the biscuits to the prepared pan, spacing close together. Brush with cream or melted butter and then sprinkle with a little sugar. Bake the biscuits until they brown and feel firm to the touch, about 20 minutes. Transfer the biscuits to a rack and cool at least 15 minutes.
For the cream:
- Using an electric mixer or large whisk, beat the cream in a large bowl until soft peaks from. Add sugar and vanilla and beat just until incorporated. Refrigerate until ready to use.
- Using a fork or serrated knife, cut the biscuits horizontally in half. Place the bottom halves in bowls. Top with berries and their juices and then a big spoonful of whipped cream. Top with the biscuit tops. Spoon a little whipped cream on top of each and spoon a few more berries over. Serve right away.