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AZTEC — Before she started attending monthly cooking classes at the Aztec Public Library, Burt Toledo didn't spend a lot of time in her kitchen.

"I worked all the time," said the Aztec woman about why she didn't often cook.

But now Toldeo is one of a handful of people who regularly attend the cooking classes the library offers.

The library began the classes less than a year ago, and their popularity spurred the addition of a second monthly cooking class geared toward teenagers.

Angela Watkins, the library's program coordinator, teaches both monthly cooking classes to encourage patrons to live healthier lifestyles and give them a taste of the cooking literature the library offers.

Watkins, who grew up in Louisiana, is passionate about cooking.

"It's what you make it," she said. "If you take it on as a chore, then it's going to treat you like you don't know what's going on in the kitchen."

The classes focus on different topics each month.

Len Roberts, who has attended several classes, said he enjoyed a juicing class in July.

"That's really nutritional to do, and it's easy to digest," he said.

Adult cooking classes take place the last Wednesday of every month while the teen class is the third Wednesday.

The first teen cooking class was in August, when the teenagers made salads in a jar, "which was very colorful and a lot of fun," Watkins said.

The teen class differs from the adult one because it focuses more on kitchen safety and cleanliness. It also provides teens an opportunity to experiment with kitchen tools, such as garlic presses.

Colorized knives and cutting boards help teenagers prevent cross contamination.

"Just colorizing the kitchen can make it fun for kids," Watkins said.

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Next adult cooking class: 6 p.m. Sept. 30

Next youth cooking class: 3:30 p.m. Sept. 23

Location: Both classes are at the Aztec Public Library, 319 S. Ash St.

Tips for grilling veggies: Class focuses on prepping vegetables 

Particularly during the hot summer months, grilling outside can be a godsend for those who want to cook meals without flooding their homes with heat.

But while many people are familiar with grilling meats, veggies are a different story. So, last week, Angela Watkins, the program director of the Aztec Public Library, demonstrated techniques for grilling vegetables in a cooking class at the library.

Most veggies can be grilled, but the class on Wednesday centered on corn on the cob, celery, squash, beets and onions.

Corn, which is currently in season, loses its sugar content within 24 hours of being picked, Watkins explained in the class.

“It's best to buy it at a time when it's close to being fresh picked,” she said, adding that buying from local farmers is a surefire way to get the freshest corn.

Certain telltale signs can also signal a good ear of corn.

“You want to make sure that the sleeve of the corn is tight and not lose around the corn,” Watkins said.

She said people should also pay attention to the silk, which should be thick.

The grilling process is simple, Watkins said.

“Some people like to put their corn in foil, but I want to grill right on the grill itself,” she said.

During the class in the library's outdoor courtyard, Watkins kept a layer of husk over the corn, peeling it back on one side to brush the kernels with a mixture of butter and parsley, before placing the ear on the grill.

“All I am doing is allowing that flavor to drip through,” Watkins said.

While many people strip the silks from the corn, Watkins left them on, explaining they burn off on the grill.

Leaving the silk on also provides moisture and some nutrients.

“Believe it or not, there are vitamins in that silk,” Watkins said.

Once on the grill, the corn needs to be turned frequently. It takes about 20 minutes to cook.

Presentation of the veggies is key, Watkins added.

At the end of last week's class, she arranged the grilled celery, squash and beets on a bed of spinach.

The result was a rainbow of food. In addition to the green spinach, summer squash added yellows, raw carrots provided orange, beets added a maroon color and onions added purple color to the arrangement.

“As long as the meal looks colorful, it looks plentiful,” Watkins said.

Hannah Grover covers Aztec and Bloomfield, as well as general news, for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 and hgrover@daily-times.com. Follow her @hmgrover on Twitter.

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