Cooking matters teaches healthy kitchen skills

"Chef" Mike Danforth of Jay and Michelle Stevens of Wilton prepare pasta at a recent Healthy Community Coalition Cooking Matters class at St. Rose Catholic Parish Hall in Jay. (Dee Menear/Franklin Journal)

JAY — When Kristie Cooper of Livermore excitedly announced, “I made noodles,” her classmates applauded proudly. Cooper was making fresh pasta for soups while her classmates made other preparations.

Cooper and about 25 others are taking a free 6-week Cooking Matters class offered by Healthy Community Coalition of Greater Franklin County. The course curriculum teaches hands-on meal preparation, practical nutrition information, and food budgeting skills. Topics include cooking tips and techniques, food safety, smart shopping tips, budgeting, and how to get families to try new food.

Laura Quynn, HCC Snap-Ed program coordinator said the course is offered several times throughout the year in greater Franklin County communities and schools. The current class is being held at St. Rose of Lima Parish Hall.

“This is the largest class we’ve ever had,” Quynn said.

Volunteer Mary Bean leads a Healthy Community Coalition Cooking Matters class at St. Rose Catholic Parish Hall in Jay. (Dee Menear/Franklin Journal) 

The class is led by volunteer and chef Mary Bean.

“Mary’s enthusiasm for food is wonderful. She does more than teach how to cook, she shares a love for cooking,” said Martina Eastman of Jay.

During a class on Thursday, Nov. 1, students learned how to make a variety of soups: chicken noodle, split pea, lentil, and minestrone. Bean led the class in prep work and cooking, offering helpful hints along the way.

“There is a difference between stock and broth,” Bean said as she poured fresh flavorful broth from a pot of cooked chicken.

Frank Festa caramelizes a mixture of carrots and onions for soup during a Healthy Community Coalition Cooking Matters class. (Dee Menear/Franklin Journal)

Broth is made from cooking meatier parts of the chicken and stock tends to be made more from bony parts.

“Try to stay away from bullion because it is full of MSG,” she warned.

Students chopped vegetables, made pasta and kneaded bread dough.

Kristie Cooper of Livermore makes pasta by pressing a dough of flour, eggs, and oil through a pasta machine. (Dee Menear/Franklin Journal)

“The class is really helpful,” said Chanel Lovewell of Livermore as she chopped fennel. “I am learning new things and new foods. I am really excited to use what I learn at home.”

“Brown means flavor,” Bean told the class as Frank Festa stirred a mixture of onions and carrots until they were caramelized.

Festa’s wife passed away last year. He said he was taking the class to learn cooking skills.

“I always sat in the kitchen reading the newspaper and never helped with the cooking. Well, now I’m learning,” he said.

The class is filled with students of all ages and from a variety of backgrounds.

“This is a true community event,” said Jane Caldwell of Strong. This is what is missing these days. Multi-generations working together in the kitchen does not happen all that often anymore.”

Caldwell is a medical student working on a community obesity prevention program.

At the end of the 2-hour class, students were able to take home servings of the food they helped prepare and recipes to recreate the dish.

“I like that this class teaches me new skills and techniques. I am learning how to cook different meals. I am definitely already trying what I learn at home,” said Rose Holt of Livermore.

Chanel Lovewell and Rose Holt, both of Livermore Falls, chop vegetables for soup at a Healthy Community Coalition Cooking Matters class at St. Rose Catholic Parish Hall. (Dee Menear/Franklin Journal)

The class will continue on Nov. 15 with a tour of a local grocery store. Cooking classes will take place on Dec. 6 and Jan. 3 and 17 from 9-11 a.m. in the parish hall. Those who attend at least four out of the six classes will receive a free reusable grocery bag, food thermometer, and recipe book upon completion of the program.

For more information or to register for remaining classes, call Quynn at 779-2928. The course is free and open to the public.

Lentil Soup with Lime Juice

Prep time – 10 minutes

Cook time – 60 minutes

Yield – 12 servings

Serving size – 3/4 cup


1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 pound dried lentils, washed and picked over

8 cups cold water

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon each black pepper and ground cumin

1 teaspoon dried thyme or oregano

3 bay leaves

1 can (4 ounces) mild green chilies, drained and chopped

1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and finely chopped

1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped

1/3 cup fresh lime juice or to taste (or 1 tablespoon lemon juice)


In a large saucepan, saute’ the onion in vegetable oil over medium-high heat (350 degrees in an electric skillet).

Add lentils, water, salt, pepper, cumin, thyme, or oregano and bay leaves. Bring to a boil.

Lower the heat to medium-low (250 degrees). Cover and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the green chilies, red bell pepper and carrots. Simmer 15 minutes more or until lentils are very soft.

Before serving, remove and discard the bay leaves and stir in the lime juice. Serve hot. Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours.


Try topping the soup with a dollop of sour cream and chopped tomatoes. This soup is also good if a potato, another carrot, and celery are added. Eliminate the chilies and cumin if you do not want the Mexican flavors.

Recipe courtesy of Maine SNAP-Ed