I want to share my experience of cooking with Walter. I received an email from a mother in South Florida who wondered if I could spend some time teaching online cooking skills to her 14-year-old son. We spent some time emailing back and forth, discussing her son, his incredible spirit and enthusiastic interest in cooking. Andrea proudly said, “The kid shines in the kitchen, in fact together we just made his little sister a double chocolate fudge birthday cake!”
She had me at double chocolate fudge cake! We hopped on a phone call and decided to go for it. I have experience coaching and teaching younger kids. I have taught young people in my TEENS LEARN YOUR INGREDIENTS class - Healthy Meals for the Teen Junior League health and wellness day - and my Families Who Cook Together class. I also am blessed with an abundance of enthusiasm and patience. What I didn’t have was any specific background in working with an autistic child, via Zoom, on the other side of the United States.
I did some research on “how to teach cooking to those with Autism” . I immersed myself in the numerous literatures, offering guidelines and incredible tips to support working within that community of young people. There are as many valuable teaching tools as there are unique individuals. I understood from his mother that he wasn’t prescribed a particular diet to follow which made my recipe creation easy. Her son expressed an interest in learning to cook for and by himself. Homemade chicken tenders and crispy fries were a priority. I believe in my ability to help everyone gain confidence in the kitchen. I believe that cooking for yourself is empowering. I believe that learning to do anything requires one thing. Making a decision.
During my 2-hour session with this adorable young man, it was apparent that making that DECISION, as he did, to go for it, is something we all need to do. Being clear on a decision allows us to do and try, just about anything we want. It was very clear during the first 10 minutes of our time together, just how determined Walter was to follow my directions. I was amazed by his uncanny ability to recognize his learning pattern and clearly understood how to pause when a little frustration with the recipe steps began. It was remarkable to see the level of self care that was taken. He knew when to step away when it felt overwhelming and come back after a few minutes. To not give up. To adhere to what works for him. To not be in competition with anyone but to be in creativity with yourself.
The timer rang and Walter grabbed a pair of blue oven mitts. Carefully he took the trays with the finished meal and placed them on the counter. Sure, the food looked delicious, but not as amazing as his smile. From corner to corner, it was filled with pride. In 2 hours, my new hero had made the most gorgeous crispy chicken tenders and crispy garlic fries that would impress the most important person. HIMSELF.
RECIPE FOR WALTER’S FAVORITE CHICKEN TENDERS AND GARLIC FRIES
Time 25 minutes
● 1 cup panko bread crumbs
● 1 egg
● 1 1/2 tbsp avocado oil mayonnaise
● 2 tbsp flour
● 1 1/2 tbsp dijon mustard
● 1/2 tsp sea salt ● 1/2 tsp black pepper
● 1 lb chicken tenderloins or breasts cut into 2/3" thick strips lengthwise
● 1 avocado oil spray (any oil spray without propellant as an ingredient)
1. Preheat the oven to 400 F.
2. Spread panko on a baking sheet and coat with oil spray.
3. Bake them for 3-5 minutes until light golden.
4. Transfer to a shallow bowl.
5. Place a non-stick cooking rack on a baking tray (you don't have to but it helps both sides get crunchy).
6. Place the batter ingredients in a bowl and whisk with a fork until combined.
7. Add the chicken to batter and toss to coat.
8. Use tongs and place chicken in the bowl with the panko.
9. Coat the chicken with panko mixture and press down to adhere. Place on a baking sheet and repeat.
10. Coat lightly with oil spray and bake for 15 minutes.
Crispy Baked Garlic Feta Fries
● 2 russet potatoes, cut into matchsticks; or use 1 package of frozen french fries
● 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
● 1 tsp sea salt ● 1 tsp black pepper
● 1 tsp garlic powder
● 1 block (8-10 oz) sheep's milk feta cheese or try Voila vegan feta
● 1 tsp dried parsley
● 1 tbsp paprika
● 2 tbsp fresh parsley chopped for garnish
1. Preheat oven to 450 F and place your sheet pan in the oven while it's heating. (this is a great tip to get those fries crisping up immediately)
2. Remove the baking sheet from oven and coat with oil spray.
3. In a large bowl, toss potatoes with 1/4 cup of olive oil, salt, pepper, and 1 tsp garlic powder.
4. Take the block of feta, place in the middle of the tray.
5. Arrange potatoes around the feta cheese.
6. Sprinkle feta with paprika, parsley, and a drizzle of olive oil.
7. Bake for 30-40 min until crispy (keep an eye on it!)
8. When done, use a fork to mash feta and toss with french fries.
9. Sprinkle chopped fresh parsley on top.
10. Serve with your favorite dipping sauce