Amazing Buttermilk Air Fried Chicken
Air Fryer Honey-Cajun Chicken Thighs
S.’s Mom’s Mac n’ Cheese
Internet Mac n’ Cheese
Avocado Zucchini Chocolate Chocolate Chip Muffins
This week’s Cultivating Change was so much fun! Not only did we have Jamilah joining us as our guest chef extraordinaire, but we also had a recipe cook off. Whenever we ask the youth what recipes they would like to make in upcoming classes, fried chicken and mac n’ cheese always get lots of votes. So Jan had the brilliant idea of having a cook-off competition to judge the best fried chicken and mac n’ cheese recipes. There were six boys in class, so two teamed up with Jamilah to make the honey-cajun thighs, two joined me to make the buttermilk chicken, and then the other two prepared both types of mac n’ cheese with Jan. The plan was to have the girls from shelter judge the winners.
The energy was great in the room, with the adults getting into the competitive spirit by offering to judge the final products and stopping by periodically to watch us in action. The boys from the other chicken team also stopped by to eye up our chicken and talk smack, and everyone was in really good spirits. Two boys who I hadn’t met before, A. and T., were on my team and we had a great time preparing the flours and egg batter that would coat the chicken. I could see that T. was having a tough time understanding some of the tasks, and A. jumped right in to help him without teasing him or being rude in any way. A. later told me that he was studying nursing at his high school, and I thought that was a great career path for him having witnessed the kind and patient way he worked with T.
Once our chicken was in the air fryer, we dispersed to look at what the other teams were up to. I stopped by the mac n’ cheese table and started salivating. Both recipes looked so good. S. told me that he pieced together his mom’s recipe from memory, and Jan said that he was even doing conversions to account for the different batch size. The mac n’ cheese was getting cooked in muffin tins (of course it was—we love muffin tins!), so there were plenty of crispy edges to go with the gooey cheesy center. I couldn’t wait to try it!
When all the teams had finished up, we lined up the dishes on the table, and distributed a portion of each to all of the boys and the (many) adults who had stuck around to vote (I think they were figuring this was going to be better than whatever they had packed for lunch). After everyone had a chance to sample the dishes, we took a show of hands to determine the favorites. The clear winners were the honey-cajun thighs and S.’s mom’s mac n’ cheese. I glanced over at S. while I was tallying the raised hands, and he was beaming with pride that his mom’s recipe won. It was clearly a really special moment for him, and I was so happy that he had a chance to impress everyone with his cooking skills.
For dessert, Jan had prepared avocado zucchini chocolate chip muffins without telling the boys what was in them. After tasting them, she asked them to guess the secret ingredients, and without a moment’s hesitation D.—a boy who told us he lives on a farm and correctly identified the duck egg in last week’s class—announced confidently that it was zucchini. Everyone was stumped when it came to identifying the avocado. It turned out that the girls were not up for cooking, which meant that we had some bonus time to spend with the boys. Jan suggested that they make a batch of the chocolate muffins, so they could see how the avocado and zucchini are mixed in the batter. So while she and all of the boys mixed up a fresh batch of muffins, Jamilah and I cleaned up the dishes. It was one of the most carefree and fun Cultivating Change classes we have had in a long time. It was wonderful to have so many staff members there to join in and cheer on the boys in their culinary successes.
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Heather Leach is Cultivating Change's facilitator and Program Director!