With the holidays fast approaching, kids can have fun – and learn – with cooking.
Maybe it’s the Emeril influence – or the kick first graders seem to get out of watching the Iron Chef unveil the “special ingredient of the day” when it’s (ugh!) live eel – but today’s junior chefs are eagerly “kicking it up a notch” in cooking classes designed just for them.
And we’re not talking about the recipes many of us made in junior high home-ec class. Today’s 7 to 12-year-old chefs-in-training listen for the “popping” sound as they boil fresh cranberries to make homemade cranberry sauce. They tie fragrant spices in cheesecloth bags to make hot spiced cider or chop pecans and juggle measuring spoons to whip up a gooey praline pumpkin pie that would bring Emeril to tears. They even wield pastry bags full of royal icing to create their very own gingerbread houses.
Today, cooking classes are held everywhere from the YMCA to local parks-and-rec clubhouses to Wild Oat Markets or the very popular Viking Culinary Art Center in Franklin.
Of course, the kitchen can be a dangerous place. So safe knife handling, respect for huge pots of boiling water and attention to proper kitchen hygiene are a top priority, says kids’ cooking instructor Michelle Moore. Her instruction, “If you lick your fingers or put your finger up your nose, go wash your hands again,” brings laughs from the kids – and creates a new line at the sink.
Learning how professional chefs go about their tasks makes an impression on students, says Moore. Within the first 10 minutes, her students know the meaning of a well-known phrase in restaurant kitchens: “Hot! Behind!” Translation: “Danger! I’m coming up behind you, and I’m carrying a hot pan!”
“They’re learning life skills,” says Moore, who reminds kids to walk with knives held close to the body and pointed down and to lift pot lids away from them so as not to send hot steam into their faces. And there’s something about taking a class from a professional chef, in a professional kitchen, that makes learning all those “kitchen rules” a lot more fun – and makes kids more attentive than they might be at home, she adds.
Learning that Sticks
In fact, holding his students’ attention is a piece of cake for pastry chef Brian Bailey. The kids in gingerbread house class, looking quite professional in their white aprons and tall chef hats, focus intently while applying candy canes and royal-icing icicles to their creations. They focus so well, in fact, that a visit from Santa Claus draws only polite hellos and smiles from the students, who are anxious to get back to work.
Kids’ math and reading skills get a good workout in cooking classes, too, says Moore. She breaks the students into small groups, with one child in charge of reading the recipe and others tasked with measuring spices, flour, etc. There’s much chatter about half cups, quarter cups, teaspoons and tablespoons – along with the inevitable mix-up here and there. But even the occasional kitchen mishap is a good opportunity, Moore notes. “We learn from our mistakes,” she says. “We talk about them.”
Trying Something New
Mom Denise Crandall says taking kids’ cooking classes has been a great experience for her grade-school-aged boys. But she confesses she can’t wait to exact just a bit of motherly revenge the first time her kids cook the family dinner. “I’m going to say ‘Ewwww, I don’t like this. This tastes yucky. The salad and the beans are touching!'” she laughs.
But getting over the “yuckies” is all part of the process when kids find that food tastes better – and seems a bit less mysterious – when they make it themselves. One of the benefits of these classes, to many parents’ delight, is that kids become willing to try foods they’d never touch at home.
“I’m not sure about pecans,” says one 8-year-old as he carefully chops the nuts at a recent cooking class. “But I know whatever I make here is gonna be good.”
Kathy Sena is a freelance writer and the mother of a 9-year-old “Iron Chef” fan who makes a mean batch of chocolate chip cookies.
Drop Cookie Delight!
For simple, kid-pleasing treats, few recipes are as easy as drop cookies. Named “drop” because they do not need to be formed (dropped from a spoon), these cookies take minimum effort, are versatile and very forgiving. They make a great launching pad for new cooks – or little helpers.
Varying the ingredients is straightforward – toss in bits, sprinkles, use juices, extracts – all will still yield a cookie. Use the master recipe below for a guideline, or encourage your children to invent their own. Cut the fat – boost the fiber? Sure, that’s also easy to do with drop cookies, realizing the adapted recipe may not taste exactly like the original.
Little ones can make these cookies from beginning to end with a little supervision by measuring, mixing, adding creative touches and … drop! Eggs are omitted, so your children can enjoy eating raw dough just like you used to (or still do!) Grown up helpers should handle the oven pans and transferring to wire racks, but other than that, drop cookies truly are kid-friendly.
Basic Drop Cookies for All!
Yield: three to five dozen depending on cookie size
Prep Time: five minutes
Cooking Time: Nine to 11 minutes (longer with larger cookies)
INGREDIENTS: two sticks butter, margarine or shortening (read ingredients for allergens), softened; one-and-a-half cups sugar (or brown sugar or both blended); three tablespoons water; three tablespoons oil; two teaspoons vanilla; two-and-one-quarter cups flour; two teaspoons baking powder; one teaspoon baking soda; one teaspoon salt
DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 375. In large mixer bowl, beat margarine and sugar until creamy. Beat in water, oil and vanilla. Stir together dry ingredients, gradually add to sugar mixture. Drop dough by rounded spoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake at 375 for nine to 11 minutes, until golden. Leave on cookie sheets for a few minutes, then transfer to cooling racks. Store in an airtight container.
- Chocolate Chip Cookies: add two cups (one 12-ounce bag) of chocolate chips
- White Chip Cookies: add two cups of white chips
- Cinnamon Cookies: sprinkle uncooked cookies with cinnamon sugar, bake as directed.
- Lemon Cookies: omit vanilla extract, add one tablespoon grated lemon peel. For added zing, replace water with an equal portion of fresh lemon juice.
- Cranberry Orange Cookies: add one cup dried cranberries (Craisins). Replace vanilla extract with orange extract.
- Chocolate Cookies: reduce flour by one quarter cup. Add one half cup powdered cocoa
– Kathy Lundquist