By JACLYN CRANE
BURLEY – Walking down the halls to the Extension Office at CSI on Wednesday, May 16, you would have smelled a blend of heavenly aromas. At the end of the aroma trail, students were putting chunks of marinated chicken into the fryer, thinly slicing potatoes and putting tortillas draped over Mason jars into a heated oven.
These students are part of the Teen Parenting Program and came from Burley, Cassia, Mt. Harrison and Minico to participate in Cassia High School’s Iron Chef Cook-off. In preparation for the event, students were separated into three teams and were required to come up with a healthy meal including all the five food groups while staying in a $35 limit.
Micaela Reyes announced they were making Mexican hamburgers, then she presented the potatoes she was preparing to bake into french fries.
“I’ve never baked french fries before. I didn’t even know you could bake them,” Reyes noted.
“The students are learning to make healthy food for their families,” Gayle Erekson, a Soroptimist member and a cook-off judge, explained. Soroptimist volunteers accompanied the students to the store where they studied prices and nutrition labels before the final event.
“We looked at juice to see its sugar content,” Adrianna Gonzalez recalled.
Some students even bought 100 percent juice for the cook-off. It met the fruit requirement.
“We take the class all year about every Wednesday,” explained Reyes.
The students haven’t only learned what is healthy, but tasted new foods after making them. The students have made enchiladas, smoothies, ice cream, and homemade baby food.
Jessie Thomas was in a cooking contest before, so he was prepared to help make a delicious ranch based avocado dressing for the taco salad with the help of his team member, Joline Tuck, who admitted she loved the cooking class.
Nina Alvarado, part of the winning team, helped her team by suggesting a Dorito chip topping, adding a crunch to their salad and fulfilling the grain food group requirement. The taco salad group created tortilla shell bowls (also in the grain group) to present their salad in a unique way.
“We warmed up the tortilla shells in the microwave then put olive oil on them. Then we put them over the jars and put in the oven at 400 degrees,” explained Esmerelda Huerigo and Guadalupe Gomez.
Gomez used her talents and has cooked for her family since this class and plans on making the taco salad again.
Kristen Castenada and her group found themselves challenged with the prospect of touching and cutting raw chicken. Kristen learned to overcome this by using food gloves.
Kevin Rodriguez and Bridget Palomarez helped their team make a delicious Chinese lemon chicken dish by battering and cooking the chicken in a deep fryer. After asking for help, they recognized when the chicken was properly cooked and ran the fryer with confidence. The lemon sauce complimented the already tasty chicken bites.
Thalia Fuentes helped her team by showing off her knife skills as she cut up ham for the fried rice as Castaneda stirred the sauce for their chicken over the stove.
“We were taught how to use knives, and we learned how measuring liquid is different from measuring dry ingredients,” explained Reyes.
Nearing the end of the allotted time, the students began to plate and would dash to the kitchen to add fruits and any other food group they were missing to their plates.
The final step was cleaning the kitchen and washing the dishes. Knowing the worst part of cooking is the dishes, the students were asked what the best part was, and in unison Huerigo, Alvarado, and Gomez answered enthusiastically, “Eating!”
The time finally came when the judges, Renee Wells, Jodi Hepworth, and Gayle Erekson sat down to taste the assorted dishes. The teams presented their foods and explained the processes of making the food. The judges decided the winner based on the general appearance, flavor, and the preparation method.
After being asked questions and quickly answering, the teams had to wait for several tense minutes as the judges decided the winner. It was a close contest, but the taco salad team won the prize. They were each handed a $25 gift card to Walmart while the other students were offered prizes of $10 gift cards for their hard work.
This class is a wonderful way for the students to meet other people from other schools, learn how to take care of their families, and a way for them to get a jump start by learning a talent they will always be able to use. A giant thanks is sent out to the Soroptimists for the donations and time they offered to make this class a success.