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Ulster County students taste sweet smell of success in Culinary Challenge

May 1, 2017
Strawberries, rhubarb, rolled oats, flour, coconut sugar, orange juice and a pinch of orange zest. Those are the basic ingredients in a recipe that high school students have cooked up for astronauts to enjoy aboard the International Space Station.

Twenty-eight teams of high school students from Alabama, New Jersey, New York, Colorado, Virginia and the Houston and Dallas areas competed in regional competitions as part of this year’s third annual NASA Culinary Challenge. The 10 winning teams then competed in the final stage to have their dessert selected to be flown to the space station. The event was held April 20 at Space Center Houston.

A panel of judges that included astronaut Karen Nyberg, NASA Johnson Space Center food scientists and representatives from the International Space Station Program Office and Engineering, as well as professional chefs, tasted and evaluated the entries.

The winner: the culinary arts team from Ulster County Boces Career and Technical Center in Port Ewen, New York.

The dessert: Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp (see recipe below). The team's recipe will be included in an astronaut cookbook for preflight preparation. It also will be made shelf stable through processing in the Space Food Systems Laboratory at Johnson, packaged and manifested on a future U.S. cargo flight to the space station.

“We prepared a strawberry rhubarb crisp, a classic New England dish,” said Ulster County Boces team member Angelina Violante. “The fresh strawberries and rhubarb give it a spring and summery vibe. There is a really bold flavor to it. Through our research, we realized that the astronauts’ taste buds get diminished in space, so the bold flavor really carries through.”

Violante and her culinary crewmates, Sara Freer and Lauren Hoetger, plan to pursue careers as bakers.

The Culinary Challenge is a part of a program called HUNCH, or High school students United with NASA to Create Hardware. The sensory evaluation taste test was just one part of the challenge. The students also had to submit a technical paper and a video.

“Culinary students are not the typical HUNCH students, who tend to be those involved in engineering,” said Allison Westover, program manager of the Culinary Challenge for HUNCH. “We have the students involved in this project do research to learn about food science. They also learn about food processing and food engineering. The project exposes them to the unique work that the food scientists at NASA do, which gives them the opportunity to see that there are other career paths to pursue.”

Other competing schools were:
  • iSchool STEM Academy, Lewisville, Texas
  • Cy Woods High School, Cypress, Texas
  • Henderson High, Troy, Alabama
  • Oakridge High School, Conroe, Texas
  • Hewitt-Trussville High School, Trussville, Alabama
  • Bob Jones High School, Madison, Alabama
  • Grandview High School, Aurora, Colorado
  • Warren Tech, Lakewood, Colorado
  • Passaic County Technical Institute, Wayne, New Jersey
All of the students’ recipes will be saved for potential use in Astronaut Crew Quarters for quarantine meals before commercial flights to the International Space Station.

The Culinary Challenge incorporates the arts with science, technology, engineering and mathematics—or STEM—activities, engaging students in learning about food science and processing food to develop a new, tasteful recipe for the space station crew members.

Now for the recipe:

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

Yield: About 10 Servings

Ingredients
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • ½ cup coconut sugar
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 5 2/3 Tbsp unsalted butter margarine blend, cold and diced into small pieces
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ lbs fresh strawberries, stemmed and sliced in to 3 pieces, 2 if small
  • 1 lb fresh rhubarb, sliced in to ½ in. pieces
  • 2 Tbsp + 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp orange zest
  • ¼ cup orange juice
  • 4 Tbsp cornstarch
Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. In a mixing bowl, whisk together flour, oats, coconut sugar, sugar and salt, breaking any clumps of sugar.
  3. Add butter/margarine blend and vanilla and rub into mixture until it comes together in crumbles and no clumps of butter remain. Transfer to refrigerator while preparing filling.
  4. In a mixing bowl, toss together strawberries and rhubarb.
  5. In a liquid measuring cup, whisk together orange juice, orange zest and cornstarch until well blended. Pour in to mixing bowl with strawberries and rhubarb; toss together again.
  6. Spread mixture evenly in to a 3-quart baking dish.
  7. Remove crumble from refrigerator and sprinkle evenly over the top.  Bake in preheated oven for 40-45 minutes until the juices bubble and the crisp is golden brown.

For more on the Culinary Challenge, visit: http://hunchculinary.weebly.com/
 
Bill Jeffs
NASA Johnson Space Center
 
Angelina Violante, Ulster County Boces Career and Technical Center culinary team member, serves Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp to the judges during the Culinary Challenge at Space Center Houston. Image Credit: NASA/Allison Bills
Angelina Violante, Ulster County Boces Career and Technical Center culinary team member, serves Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp to the judges during the Culinary Challenge at Space Center Houston. Image Credit: NASA/Allison Bills
Vickie Kloeris, NASA food scientist and International Space Station food system manager, prepares to taste one of the dessert entries during the Culinary Challenge. Image Credit: NASA/Allison Bills
Vickie Kloeris, NASA food scientist and International Space Station food system manager, prepares to taste one of the dessert entries during the Culinary Challenge. Image Credit: NASA/Allison Bills
Judges for the Culinary Challenge evaluate the students' dessert entries. Image Credit: NASA/Allison Bills
Judges for the Culinary Challenge evaluate the students' dessert entries. Image Credit: NASA/Allison Bills