Family Table Cooking Club

Last night I had the wonderful opportunity to volunteer as a facilitator at the first Family Table Cooking Club, hosted by West CAP and the St. Croix Falls Buy Local Initiative. The focus of the event was helping low-income families in the area learn how to utilize more fresh ingredients and whole grains into their diets, as well as discussing the benefits of shopping locally and purchasing locally produced goods. Katelin, one of the VISTA volunteers with the Buy Local Initiative, was the primary organizer of the event. Her and I had been working the past several weeks to organize a menu, purchase food, advertise, and secure a location to host the event, among many other things.

Our menu was built around the basics: dishes that could easily be modified to fit the tastes of a family. In addition, we wanted the recipes to be simple as well as delicious and made with readily available ingredients, in order to increase the likelihood that they would try the recipes at home. After tossing around several recipes, we settled on lasagna, baked egg muffins, and pumpkin breakfast cookies. Katelin and I went shopping at Fine Acres Market, a local organic foods market in downtown St. Croix Falls, to pick up ingredients we could buy in bulk (whole wheat flour, spices, etc.) as well as some locally grown onions. Clutching an afternoon cappuccino from the Lucky Cup (St. Croix's new coffee shop), we took over the small room that housed all of their bulk ingredients. It was crazy buying so much flour, baking powder, and spices; we bought 16 cups of each kind of flour we used! I find buying in bulk oddly satisfying; maybe its the work of searching for the ingredient, scooping it into a little bag, and labeling it. Whatever it is, I love doing it and highly encourage others to do the same! Anyway, back to the cooking event...

I arrived at the St. Croix Falls High School FACE kitchen to help with the preparations, including organizing ingredients at each station, prepping recipe binders, and putting out snacks. Participants started arriving at about 5PM and, after a short discussion and introductions, we got to work. There were six stations total, and with three items on our menu, we allotted two stations per menu item. The turnout was perfect, so each person got their own station to work with. After about 30 minutes at their station, they switched to the next one. At the end, we sat down to enjoy the fruits of our labor, and they were delicious! Plus, each participant got to take home a pan of lasagna they could could cook at home (they got to keep the pan), a dozen egg muffins, and all the cookies they baked.

While eating, we talked about what everyone thought of the pilot session. Everyone was so satisfied with how the class went they were already talking about the next one; one participant even had the great idea of sharing favorite recipes. They also asked for recipes that were twists on old favorites (like chicken or ground beef). It was a delicious and satisfying evening for everyone involved and I was so happy to be a part of it.

Since my station was preparing Pumpkin Breakfast Cookies, I have printed that recipe below. These cookies are soft, almost cake-like, and have a wonderful balance of pumpkin and spices. This particular recipe seems more like dessert to me, but if you add an array of dried fruit and/or nuts and some ground flax seed, these could be more like a breakfast on the go. Or you could add chocolate chips and make them a delicious dessert cookie. Either way, they are really delicious and really simple to make!

Pumpkin Cookies
Makes about 4 dozen

1 15-oz can pureed pumpkin (feel free to use homemade pumpkin puree here)
1 1/2 c brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 c vegetable oil
1 1/2 c flour
1 1/2 c whole wheat flour
1 tbsp baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1 c raisins (optional)
1 c walnuts or hazelnuts, chopped (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Mix pumpkin, brown sugar, eggs, and oil thoroughly. Mix the rest of the ingredients (except the raisins and nuts) in a separate bowl. Add these dry ingredients to the pumpkin mixture and stir until blended. Add raisins and nuts, if using.

Drop by teaspoonful on a greased cookie sheet (cooking spray or a non-stick mat work great). Bake 10-12 minutes or until golden brown.

Note: If you are interested in the recipes for the other dishes we cooked, let me know and I'll send them to you!

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