Lisa Krupiarz makes Ham Strata
At home Lisa Krupiarz prefers simple, healthy meals, but at Thomas Middle School in Arlington Heights she lets her eighth graders go wild, in a controlled sort of way.
After learning the basics in sixth and seventh grades Lisa feels these students - who choose cooking as an elective - are ready for some independence, so Lisa lets them choose their own recipes, and boy, are they ambitious.
Long ingredient lists and fussy techniques do not daunt them.
"I am continually amazed by the extraordinary things my students select and make," says Lisa. "They are so refreshingly innocent and excited, nothing stops them."
Each kitchen group chooses a different recipe, an approach that means more work for Lisa at the supermarket and when supervising the action, but more excitement for the kids. It's a process she relishes.
"They become so confident in the kitchen," says Lisa, a teacher for seven years.
Sometimes the students select recipes, like jelly doughnuts, that she has never attempted.
"That's really a very high level of cooking," says Lisa. Doughnuts require yeast dough, deep-fat frying and injecting jelly with a pastry bag.
"When you teach the way I do, you have to be comfortable learning along with them," she says.
Other ambitious picks include fried calamari, crab Rangoon and creme brulee, albeit without a torch.
"A student was willing to bring one in, but I declined," she laughs.
The ultimate goal is to inspire the students to go home and cook for the rest of their lives.
Lisa learned the old-school way, from her Depression-era mother, who prepared economical meals for her family of eight.
When Lisa ventured out on her own she delved into more exotic, complicated recipes, but once she started a family, she returned to her roots. Elaborate meals didn't work with four children at home.
Healthy eating is a priority, too. Lisa talks about nutrition and exercise with her students, but she gives them permission to enjoy "rich, extravagant food without guilt" for holidays and celebrations.
One such splurge is her Ham Strata, a cheese-and-egg rich brunch casserole that her students have prepared for school events and she has made for special occasions at home.
"Everyone should have a great, easy-to-prepare breakfast dish in their collection," she says.
For daily meals at home Lisa leans toward hearty soups with lots of vegetables, like this week's Old-Fashioned Split Pea.
Lisa's own kids no doubt want the recipe for their mom's Cheeseburger Casserole, a somewhat decadent family favorite made with boxed macaroni and cheese, ground beef and a little fresh cheese.
Lisa leaves us with the same advice she gives her students: "The key to successful recipes is to accurately and precisely duplicate the recipe, using the correct measurements, the right tools and equipment and following the instructions."
After that you can tinker at will; a bit of controlled chaos is fun in anyone's kitchen.