When was the last time you did a cooking demonstration?
My latest demonstration taught me a lot, and today I'd like to share what I've learned with you. I offer these tips to help you make your cooking demos easier, more exciting, and more engaging!
Let's start with some background. I just got back from Albuquerque, New Mexico, where I presented a cooking demonstration about whole grains for the New Mexico School Association.
Well, it turns out that the USDA now requires schools to serve whole grains in their cafeterias. This presents a challenge, mainly because many whole grain foods are foreign to children. Plus, lots of whole grain foods do not hold up as well as their refined counterparts when it comes to foodservice.
I jumped at the chance to make things easier for the New Mexico School Association and share what I know. After all, I have a long history with whole grains.
You see, I have worked on developing whole grain dishes for the past 20 years -- ever since I launched our first newsletter. I also found ways to make whole grain foods appealing to my son and his friends. Little did they know that they were eating pizza or cookies that were made with white whole grain flour! I have even made chocolate cake with white whole grain flour.
Pasta and rice proved more difficult, but I met the challenge.
The first time I made whole grain spaghetti, I wanted to give up. It broke apart, looked funny, and didn't taste the same as our regular spaghetti. Plus, it was way too nutty for my son and his friends. The same was true for brown rice.
But here is the secret I discovered -- tasty brown rice just needs to be cooked longer in more water!
I find that 2 to 2.25 parts water to rice is a good start and that it is best to cook the brown rice for 40 to 45 minutes. It's even better when you can make mixed dishes with it like Arroz Con Pollo, Spanish Rice, Rice Salad, and Banana Cream Pie Rice Pudding.
But how to solve the pasta problem?
First, I found that shorter shapes like penne and macaroni break less often. Second, these shorter shapes can be cooked in the sauce, which makes them take on a softer texture without falling apart. Third, using a thicker sauce helps make the whole grain pasta a lot more enjoyable. I found that if you partially cook the pasta in boiling water and then finish cooking it in a thick sauce, it's quite tasty.
For a faster and easier pasta solution, you can also cover whole grain pasta with water in a shallow pan and then top it with an equal amount of sauce. Pop the whole thing in the oven for 45 minutes and voila! Dinner is ready.
So if you want to make a whole grain demo – here is a great outline and timeline, based on what I learned at my demonstration.
- Spanish Rice
- Chao Ga Rice Soup (member exclusive)
- Arroz Con Pollo (member exclusive)
- Rice Salad with Almonds and Raisins (member exclusive)
- Banana Cream Pie Rice Pudding (member exclusive)
Whole Grain Pasta:
Order of Operations for a Whole Grain Cooking Demonstration:
- Arrive early at the location to check setup and equipment. Make sure that you have everything on hand for a safe demonstration that everyone can see and hear.
- Lay out the ingredients and equipment for each part of your cooking demo.
- When your audience arrives, walk them through the order of the day and the goals of the demonstration.
- Prepare the Chao Ga Rice Soup. Show how to finish it, cracking the eggs into the pot and garnishing it when you're done. If time doesn't allow for you to make the whole soup, make a batch ahead of time and just demonstrate how to add the eggs and serve the dish.
- Demonstrate how to make the Baked Whole Wheat Ziti, Spanish Rice, and Arroz Con Pollo. Place each in the oven to bake while you continue with the demonstration.
- Walk everyone through the preparation of the Rice Salad with Almonds and Raisins.
- Demonstrate how to make the Banana Cream Pie Rice Pudding.
- Summarize what you've presented. What are the keys that you want the audience to take away from their time with you?
- Serve samples of each dish to your audience, answering any of their questions and discussing the recipes.
Cooking Demonstration Tips:
- In order to make things easy and clear for my audience, I prepped each meal twice. First I made each one from start to finish on my own. That version would be what I offer for tasting after the demonstration. Then, during the demonstration, I would make the meal again, discussing each step as I did it. When it was time to finish the dish (usually a bit of unattended cooking or chilling was in order), I brought out the first version of the dish and divided it up for tastings. If you do the same, be sure to remember the food safety rules and store the samples safely before serving.
- It's a good idea to line up all the prepared ingredients for each recipe and to store them on a cart or table so that they're all together. People want to see what is in each dish, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they want to watch you measure or chop everything.
- For the Chao Ga Rice Soup, we only showed the group how to add the eggs to the soup. Then we garnished it with freshly chopped basil, parsley, and oregano. Vietnamese fish sauce was served to the side. We offered this dish to the school foodservice employees because kids will usually be more daring with ethnic dishes that other kids in the world like to eat. Plus, soup is a great way to serve brown rice.
- In this demonstration, we served the spanish rice and arroz con pollo together and offered pico de gallo, peppers, jalapeños, hot sauce, and cilantro as garnishes.
- As I presented each dish, I told everyone about how I developed the recipe. The stories were very well received and made for good patter during the demonstration.
By Judy Doherty, PC II and Founder of Food and Health Communications, Inc.
If this information was useful to you, then you'll love what we've got in the Nutrition Education Store! Each resource was created to help you look your very best, right now...
PS Here's a bonus resource, just for you! Get the scaled-up versions of all the recipes here. They're perfect for cooking demonstrations!
Stephanie Ronco has been editing for Food and Health Communications since 2011. She graduated from Colorado College magna cum laude with distinction in Comparative Literature. She was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 2008.