Friday, April 11, 2008

Kids in the kitchen

It’s always a good day to have recipes that help get children involved – and interested – in what comes out of the kitchen. Don't try to pull this off when you've got a dinner party scheduled, or when work's running late.

Instead, pull out child-friendly recipes on nights when not much is going on (yes, I know how busy parents are, but look for opportunities where you can). Have patience and be prepared for dinner to take much longer to cook than if you just slapped it together yourself. Your patience will be rewarded.

The key with children’s dishes is to have things that can be assembled and under way in about 10 minutes. To a child, that’s an eternity. Even bread dishes and elaborate desserts need to be broken into stages so little ones can have what I call “progress points” along the way.
Some simple tips for cooking with the kids:
  • Always wash your hands
  • Be sure activities are age appropriate. Consider the child’s attention span as well as dexterity.
  • Demonstrate proper techniques for common cooking terms such as beating, stirring, chopping, dicing, etc.
  • Show them how to crack an egg in a small bowl or saucer instead of directly into the dish. That way, any shell fragments can be picked out easily. And there will be shell fragments until they get the knack of the egg crack.
  • Make sure you get them started on “clean as you go.” Establish a time-saving (and counter space saving) habit of cleaning up the dishes and ingredients as the recipe progresses. No use having the kitchen look like a bomb was detonated in it….
The folks at French’s passed along some easy, child-friendly recipes suitable for spring and summer. Great for a spring break dinner or lunch. And the children love to snack on the crunchy onions while they're crushing them -- another cooking activity my children excel in.

Quick Crispy Mac and Cheese
Makes 4 servings

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
1 1/3 cups Cheddar or original French fried onions
1 (10 3/4 oz.) can condensed cream of celery soup
1 1/4 cups milk
3 cups cooked elbow pasta (2 cups uncooked)
2 cups shredded Cheddar or cubed American cheese
1 cup diced cooked ham
1/2 cup frozen peas
Heat oven to 350. Crush French fried onions in plastic bag.
Combine soup and milk in 2-quart baking dish. Stir in pasta, cheese, ham and peas. Top with crushed onions.
Bake 30 minutes or until heated through.

Crunchy Onion Chicken
Makes 4 servings
Prep Time: 5 min.
Cook Time: 20 min.
1 1/3 cups original or Cheddar French fried onions
1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast halves
1 egg, beaten
CRUSH French fried onions in plastic bag.
DIP chicken into egg. Coat in onion crumbs.
BAKE at 400 for 20 min. until no longer pink in center.

Onion Veggies
Makes 6 servings
Prep Time: 10 min.
Cook Time: 10 min.
1 1/3 cups French fried onions
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 to 2 medium zucchini cut diagonally into 1/4-inch slices
1 egg, beaten
CRUSH French fried onions in plastic bag using hands or rolling pin.
PLACE flour into separate bag. Toss zucchini in flour; shake off excess.
DIP zucchini pieces into beaten egg; then toss in crushed onions, a few pieces at a
ARRANGE zucchini on greased rack set over rimmed baking sheet. Bake at 400°F
for 10 min. or until tender.
Crispy Onion Mushrooms: Substitute one 10 oz. pkg. whole button mushrooms. Proceed as
Crunchy Double Onion Rings: Crush 2 cups French fried onions in plastic bag and toss with 2 Tbsp. flour; set aside. Slice 2 large onions into 1/2 inch thick rings. Coat onion rings in 1/4 cup flour. Dip into 2 beaten egg whites, then into crushed French fried onion mixture. Bake according to recipe above.
Photos courtesy of French’s