Cooking + Teaching + Photography = Happy Patty!

I am less than three months away from finishing my fifth year of teaching. Goodness gracious, where has the time gone?? It feels like just yesterday I was stressing out because there were so few high school job listings back in the summer of 2009. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to secure a position, which actually happened to a few people I knew. Not good! As luck would have it, I was called in for an interview at 11:30 AM on the first day of school and offered the position three hours later. Phew!

Toward the end of my first year of teaching, our then principal (I’ve had four different principals now) came up with the idea to include more electives in our course offerings. I work at an alternative/continuation high school, and for those who are unfamiliar (as I was before I took this position), continuation schools house mostly at-risk students who have been (for the most part) involuntarily transferred from their original comprehensive school sites for a variety of reasons, including behavior, grades, and attendance. Because of the circumstances and unique needs of our student population, our class sizes are smaller and are supposed to max out around 20-22. We focus on core classes (math, English–that’s me!, history, science, PE) and have little room and resources for electives. Since we were in the process of restructuring our schedule and classes, we held meetings and discussed how we could incorporate non-core classes for our students. Long story short, somebody suggested a foreign language class, I happen to know Vietnamese, we created the course, and now I’ve been teaching Conversational Vietnamese for four years. It is one of my all-time favorite classes to teach. I just love it! It’s a ton of fun, the students respond incredibly well to it, and we even get to cook!

Here’s a short back story on how I was able to add a culinary component to the course:

My current site used to be an elementary school. One of the rooms is equipped with a fully functioning kitchen. When my high school moved in, the room became a computer lab and I didn’t know it existed until the end of my second year (which was my first year of teaching Conversational Vietnamese). I used to take my students to the main computer lab in the portable and never had a reason to poke my head into Room 9. Well, one day I did, saw the kitchen, and all the wheels in my head started spinning at max speed. I asked my principal (my second one at the time) if I could pretty please switch rooms so I could infuse a stronger cultural element to the Vietnamese class by teaching the students how to prepare simple Vietnamese dishes. He said absolutely (he was an avid foodie himself) and the rest is history! So when the course is taught during the spring semester, we whip up culinary delights every few weeks and not only do the students get to chow down, they learn how to work together to get the job done. Now if that isn’t Common Core aligned, then I don’t know what is. πŸ™‚

This week we made my mom’s panko breaded shrimp. Some of the students don’t like seafood, so we also did a chicken version. The recipe is super simple and a hit with family, staff, and students. My mom makes a homemade tomato dipping sauce to accompany the fried shrimp, but in the interest of time (we only have 68 minutes) I buy bottled sweet and sour or sweet chili sauce for kids. This is delicious with steamed jasmine rice or by itself as an appetizer.

Mom’s Panko Breaded Shrimp

As with all of my mom’s recipes, there are no exact measurements. She eyeballs everything. However, this recipe is foolproof and does not require any measurements whatsoever. All you do is dip, dip, dip, then fry. Ta da!


  • shrimp, chicken, assorted vegetables, or all of the above (amount varies depending on how many you’re serving/how hungry you are)
  • tempura batter mix (this is my mom’s secret: DO NOT make the batter; dip your protein/veggie directly into the flour)
  • eggs, 1-2 depending how much you’re making
  • panko bread crumbs


Set up your assembly line:

Pour the contents of the tempura batter mix into a bowl or shallow plate. Set aside. Remember, DO NOT follow the instructions on the box. We are using this as a dry coating.

Beat the egg(s) in a separate bowl/shallow plate. Set aside.

Pour the panko bread crumbs in a third bowl/shallow plate. Set aside.

Dip your protein or veggies in the following order:

dry tempura mix —-> egg —-> panko bread crumbs

*Note: Make sure every layer is well coated, especially the bread crumbs–I like to apply a light pressure to make sure the crumbs have completely adhered and won’t fall off in the hot oil.

Next, fry in small batches until golden brown. Serve with your favorite dipping sauce and enjoy!

The shrimp station.
The shrimp station. (My students are very comfortable in front of the camera. I’m constantly running around with it for the school yearbook.)
The students were very particular about how to arrange the shrimp. Too funny because they usually don't pay attention to details like that!
They were very particular about how to arrange the shrimp. Too funny because they usually don’t pay attention to details like that!
They insisted that all the tails face the same way.
One of the kids insisted that all the tails face the same way. Then he policed the arrangement of the shrimp for the rest of the process. Haha!
The chicken station was a little less orderly.
The chicken station was a little less orderly.
I have a girl who secretly takes pictures of me in action so I told her to go ahead and get some shots of me.
I have a girl who likes to take pictures of me in action so I told her to go ahead and get some shots for the newsletter (which I put together every month).
I even posed.
I even posed.
I had to hurry and get the chicken fried up before the shrimp got cold. Not a lot of time for picture taking.
I had to hurry and get the chicken fried up before the shrimp got cold. Not a lot of time for picture taking.
Golden brown!
Golden brown and ready to devour!


  1. Nice story and shots, especially of the author of this story. But I’m wondering what happened to my shrimp?! You said your students don’t like shrimp!

  2. Lovely story, you are in a noble profession and it is wonderful you have been able to infuse the educational experience with food . . . it really is wonderful vehicle for connection and learning. Of course the recipe looks to be a winner too! My husband is a school psychologist and my hat is really off to all of you in that field!

    • Yes, I love being able to incorporate both cooking and photography into my teaching. It rounds everything out! And how great that your husband is a school psychologist. Both my BA and MA are in psychology! πŸ™‚

  3. What a great story, Patty! This must have been a fun project for students to work on and the Vietnamese conversation + cooking class sounds like a terrific one! I think getting students to think/read/do outside the box will open their eyes to new ideas and perspectives. The shrimp looks great too!

    • Yes, it’s amazing to see how the kids open up in the Vietnamese class. I have one student who rarely does any work in his other classes, yet tells me on a daily basis how much he loves our class and how it’s the best class ever. Talk about a confidence boost, right??

      • Yes! That is so inspirational to hear that he enjoys the class so much–it really shows, also, how different students learn in different ways. Kudos, Patty! It must feel awesome to draw students out like that. πŸ™‚

      • Thanks, Ngan! It can be hit and miss, but the hits are pretty awesome when they happen. We had another event today that I’ll blog about later this weekend!

  4. What a wonderful post, Patty… Thank you for sharing a piece of your life with us. Your students are so very lucky to have you.. and in the years to come when they talk about their favorite teacher, they’ll be talking about you. You are beautiful.
    The shrimp looks so delicious… πŸ™‚

  5. The shrimp look delightful with the wonderful crust! And loved to read about your school and your foreign language and cooking class. My son is in Middle school and he is learning mandarin and his teacher also frequently has cooking sessions which he absolutely enjoys! πŸ™‚

    • Yes, the panko gives the shrimp a wonderful crispy crunch! How great that your son is learning Mandarin! Plus he gets to eat, too! I think all classes should cook! It’s such a fun and interactive way for the students to work together and learn.

  6. These sound like lessons the students will actually remember. I applaud you, not just for the recipe, but for the innovative approach to teaching.

  7. Good for you, Patty, for thinking outside the box! Wish there were more teachers like you. Shrimps look yum. Hubby and son would love this. I’ll have to remember not to make the batter next time. Thanks, Patty’s mom, for the excellent tip! πŸ™‚

    • I’ll tell her you said that, Angie! She’ll be happy. Her shrimp always turn out perfectly crispy. Soo good. We do lettuce wraps with them as well. πŸ™‚

  8. That is sooooo awesome!!!! You are amazing you know that?! BTW, I loove panko shrimps! M m m… Deliciousness!

    I wish I was nearby to join in on your conventional vietnamese class! And congrats on the Five years… Go celebrate!

    • You are welcome to join my class any time!! And I’ll celebrate come June…it’s still a wee bit early to party. I don’t want to jinx myself! *knock on wood* Heheh πŸ˜‰

  9. Really enjoyed that – don’t know how I missed it the first time round! Wonderful that you are able to suggest ideas and get them sanctioned. Those kids are sooo lucky to have you!

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