Cooking and Self-Improvement

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Earlier, Efrat Libfroind wrote about being a mother and a full-time pastry chef and the only kosher cooking student in class. Her new cookbook, Kosher Elegance, is now available.

Part of my business is providing continuing education courses to Israeli public school teachers. In Israel, these courses have a bit more of a “sabbatical year” feel to them, so fun topics like cooking and pastry baking are acceptable choices. I love teaching these courses.jewish authors blogTeaching cooking and baking to large numbers of women over the years has been very enlightening. It has become clear to me that while teaching these courses, I am a psychologist as well as a chef and baker.

The groups I click with the most are the women who are upbeat and happy. They come to each class with high hopes and expectations and they drink it all in. They obediently take notes of every word I utter and the have a digital camera going non-stop in order to record every move I make. It is always fun when I put together the various parts of a recipe. There are ‘wows’ from all over the room and cameras clicking so furiously from every possible angle that I feel like I am at a press conference with the Prime Minister.

Another type of student is the more….aggressive type. I have gotten used to this type of student over the years. They come to the course all ready to fail. When this type of student tries a recipe, if it doesn’t look exactly like what I modeled….she attacks. She doesn’t throw eggs, but it is a flood of complaints and frustration. I have learned how to calmly coach this sort of student out of the black hole of recipe failure. It is an art, believe me.

There are students who are so excited about their cooking efforts outside the classroom that they bring in pictures as part of an adult version of “show and tell.” Often, what they made looks nothing like what I taught them…but they are thrilled and proud. Nothing stops them. I love when this happens and I just keep encouraging them.

I often teach women who have a strong desire to achieve and express themselves. I find that the cooking or baking skills they learn become tools in these efforts. They may not find such expression in their jobs and maybe even at home. Often, it seems that their entry into the world of more creative cooking and baking allows these women to grow in life generally. Who knew? Baking for self esteem! Cooking for overall well being! This could be the new yoga.

Over the years I have developed a sense for identifying these women and I really try to give them special attention and encourage them to experiment and to create and…to take pictures every step of the way! This way they can show others and always refer to the great things they have done and (hopefully) continue to do. It really gives me a lot of personal satisfaction working with these women – especially when I see the look in their eyes…..I realize we’ve done a lot more than learned to cook together.

Stuffed Chicken Wedges

Tzippy is a close friend and an accomplished chef in her own right. Before every event she hosts, she calls me and we go over every detail of the menu from A to Z. When she called before her most recent party, she told me we would only discuss the details of the main course and on — she’d already planned the first course. She sounded a little secretive, but since I was attending the event in question, I didn’t pressure her to reveal her secret. This recipe was that surprise dish. It won rave reviews, and I received permission from Tzippy to share it with you.

Makes 1 9-inch round pan

9 chicken breasts, pounded thin

Filling
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
1 small leek, cut into strips
2 cloves garlic, chopped
15 sun-dried tomato halves, diced (to make your own, see page 74)
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 bunch chives, chopped

Coating
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon paprika

Filling: Saute onion and leek in olive oil for 10 minutes. Add sun-dried tomatoes. Add remaining ingredients and saute for about 5 more minutes. Arrange 3 of the chicken breast slices on the bottom of a 9-inch round pan so that the entire base of the pan is covered. Spread half of the filling over the chicken and cover with another layer of chicken. Spread the remaining half of the filling on the chicken and top with the last three chicken breasts.

Mix olive oil and paprika and brush the top layer of chicken with the mixture. Bake uncovered for 40 minutes at 350°F. Cool slightly and sprinkle with chopped chives. Cut into wedges and serve.

Tip: For a special presentation, bake individual servings in 2-inch food rings.

Posted on June 29, 2011

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