October 18, 2021

Program offers food for thought

Homer students get a life lesson, and a reason to keep learning

Catherine Wilde/contributing photographer

Jennifer DeHart, bakery manager at Anderson’s Market in Little York, puts on a cooking demonstration for Homer High School seniors, from left, Isabelle Brown, Stephanie South and Shelby Rowley.

Jennifer DeHart chopped vegetables and explained to the Homer High School teenagers the importance of proper nutrition during a short cooking presentation Wednesday at Anderson’s Market in Little York.

DeHart, the store’s bakery manager, identified the mushrooms — portobellos, and explained why she was cutting off the zucchini skins — they become rubbery.

Her audience watched, tasted and at the end some had a change of attitude — and taste buds.

Like junior Tiernyn Robbins and senior Isabelle Brown, who walked into the lesson hating brussels sprouts — but that was before they were roasted and wrapped in prosciutto.

“I didn’t like the taste or texture before but now it’s amazing and I want more of it,” Robbins said.

The trip to Anderson’s Market was arranged by Liberty Partnerships Program Coordinator Pat Lang, who meets with teenagers several times a week at Homer High School. The 44 Liberty Partnerships programs in the state try to help students at risk of dropping out of school, according to SUNY Cortland, which runs the program.

The program identifies areas of growth that kids can benefit from, and arranges ways to engage them in that.

SUNY Cortland’s program serves grades 6 to 12 in McGraw, Homer, Cortland, Tully, Groton and Cincinnatus school districts.

The 10 girls who surrounded DeHart were among 47 Lang helps in Homer, and the only girls. Lang wanted an activity specific to them, and decided on a cooking class after visiting the market and chatting with DeHart about the need to teach young people how to cook. DeHart had mentioned to her that some teenagers can’t identify fruits and vegetables and she offered a private cooking lesson.

Lang’s students were all for it.

By the end of the hour-long demonstration, in which DeHart chopped eggplants, bell peppers and mushrooms for her ratatouille quinoa bake, the group was planning another demonstration — maybe next time for dessert.

They learned about the importance of eating different food groups — the ratatouille DeHart makes has only vegetables, but quinoa is a grain high in protein. However, DeHart pointed out that only meat contains all the essential amino acids in one food.

DeHart makes this ratatouille with eggplant and mushrooms, which she told her audience are such meaty, hearty vegetables that you wouldn’t even know it’s a vegetarian dish. The melted cheese helps make it filling. Robbins said after the class she would make the dish at home, and now she wants to learn to cook.

Try this

Here’s an easy recipe suggested by Jennifer DeHart, bakery manager of Anderson’s Market.

Ratatouille Quinoa Bake
1 eggplant, peeled and cubed
1 zucchini, cubed
1 summer squash, cubed
1 red onion, chunked
1 package portobello mushrooms, cleaned and chunked
1 pepper of desired color, cubed
1 can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
3/4 cup quinoa
1 1/2 tsp. granulated garlic
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
2 cups of favorite shredded cheese

Place all ingredients in a 9-by- 13 casserole dish. Mix well. Cover with aluminum foil. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove and stir. Recover and place back in oven until quinoa is cooked (little white “circles” will appear) and veggies are tender. Remove from oven and sprinkle cheese on top. Place back in oven until cheese is melted, five to seven minutes.

Let rest 10 minutes before serving.

“I thought it was very interesting to see and figure out the different things you could do,” she said.

DeHart wants to see more of that enthusiasm.

“If my meal has made people happy, then that’s made my day,” she said of her own love of cooking.

DeHart advises the beginning cook to keep things simple. Start with basic recipes and keep in mind: ingredients can be added to a dish, but can’t be taken away. Start with the recipe, but put your own spin on it as you understand how it works.

She does that with all the dishes she makes, everything from macaroni and cheese to chili.

And know where the food comes from, DeHart told the teens. Don’t expect bananas, oranges or pineapples to be grown in New York.

“Source as locally as possible, because if you’re supporting U.S. production, you’re supporting U.S. farmers and if we don’t have farmers, we don’t have food,” she said.