Hallway Taste Tests - sharing food and building community

As part of our never-ending quest to get our families cooking and eating more good food together, Sarah and I decided to use some grant money to try parent cooking classes every other month.

Like we often do, we had an idea and we went for it, worrying about the details later. Scheduling was our major stumbling block. We thought and thought about how to get folks to come. We knew we didn't want to ask parents to come to weekend events. That left weekdays, but that created another problem. If we scheduled the classes in the afternoon parents would have to leave work early to make it. If we tried for after 5pm we'd have to hope parents would stay at pick up time, and we'd have to provide after hours care for kids while their parents cooked - not ideal for anyone at the end of a long day. In the end we compromised and scheduled the classes from 4:30-5:30pm - early enough (we hoped) that some parents could make it, but not extending past the usual end of our school day.

We held two - a salsa making class to work on knife skills, and then pie making before our annual Thanksgiving Family dinner. A handful of parents attended each one, and we gave everyone who came recipes, utensils, and tons of delicious food to take home when we were done. But... we weren't satisfied. We wanted to reach more people - lots more. We wanted more bang for our buck.

During a brainstorming session, Sarah came up with the brilliant idea of taste tests. We would just set up a table in the hallway so everyone entering would have to pass right by, and we'd have samples of something delicious to share. And recipes and tips to take home, of course. We jokingly called our first attempt an Ambush Cooking Class.

 Biscuits and corn muffins were our first offerings. I made dozens of both, and we set up our table with warm trays of food, dishes of butter, napkins, step-by-step recipes, and sheets for rating the food that kids and parents could use.

Something interesting happened that we didn't quite expect. Everyone, everyone, who came in or out while we sat at our table stopped and tried the food.

Everyone took a few minutes out of their pick-up routine to have a bite, check out the recipe, fill out a rating sheet, chat with us or with teachers or other parents who were hanging around.

We talked with parents about what they were making for dinner that night. Parents who don't normally connect talked easily, and shared stories about picky eaters, or challenging dinner times.

Folks sat on the entryway couch together and fed biscuits to their babies and toddlers.

It was lovely. And we realized we were on to something. Almost everything we'd hoped to accomplish with the cooking classes was happening, right there in the hallway.

Next time we tried black bean and vegetable soups, and they were also a hit.

Then we moved on to Banana Cranberry and Pumpkin breads to try out our Holiday Food Bag recipes. Naturally, those were extremely popular.

Banana cranberry and pumpkin breads

Last week we tried two recipes using curry, to test new lunch and food bag menu possibilities.

prepping ingredients

Vegetable curry

curried rice and chick peas

The results were excellent, and we packed up curry veggie and rice ingredients in the food bags the very next day!

We couldn't be more excited about our new favorite community builder. Here's to more Hallway Taste Tests!

Moms and babies love banana bread!

Love it, Not Sure, or No thanks?

Teachers love taste tests too!

Giving feedback

Good food, happy kids!

Make our curry recipes for dinner!

Curried Rice and Chick Peas
serves 4-6 as a main dish

6 cups cooked rice 
2-3 cups chick peas
3 Tbsp olive oil
3 Tbsp curry powder
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste
sprinkle of red pepper flakes if you like extra spice

Cook rice according to package directions. You’ll probably want to cook 3 cups of dry rice to get 6 cups cooked. 
Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. When the pan is nice and hot, add the minced onion and cook, stirring around often, for 2 or 3 minutes until the onions begin to soften and turn clear. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or two, stirring constantly so the garlic doesn’t stick or burn. 
When the onions and garlic are very fragrant, add the curry powder and stir well. It should almost form a loose paste. 
Add the chick peas and cook, stirring to coat them with the spice mixture. 

Meanwhile, put your cooked rice in a large bowl. Add the curried chick peas and toss gently to combine with the rice. Season with salt and pepper to taste. 

Veggie Coconut Curry
Serves 5-6 as a main dish

About 6-7 cups vegetables 
I like any combination of potatoes, carrots (peeled and chopped into 1 inch pieces) peas, and green beans (cut into 1 inch pieces). For this recipe I used all four! 
1/2 a medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp olive oil or coconut oil
3 Tbsp curry powder or curry paste
2 tsp salt
1 can coconut milk
1 c liquid coconut milk

Bring about 4 cups of water to a boil in a medium sauce pan. Add the carrots and potatoes. Boil for about 6-7 minutes, until you can pierce them with a fork. You want them tender, but not soft and mushy. Drain and set aside.
Heat the oil in a large deep skillet or sauce pan over medium heat. When pan is hot, add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions start to turn clear. When they are very fragrant, add the curry powder or paste and stir well. Add the rest of the vegetables including the pre-boiled carrots and potatoes. Stir around a bit until everything is coated in the curry spices. Add the coconut milk and liquid and stir gently. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes or so, until it thickens up a bit. Give it a taste and season with more salt and pepper if you like!