What do four rambunctious boys, a girl who can out run any of them and a future Miss Congeniality all have in common?
They love to cook.
That's not to say they love to eat, or that left to their own devices their choices would be from a food group anybody's ever heard of. Or if you told them to make lunch they wouldn't just dump a slice of leftover pizza and a can of soda in a blue thermal bag.
That's exactly why I gathered my granddaughter and five of her friends here today.
We decided to host a cooking class. The subject: School Lunches. If a child makes his own, he's more likely to eat it and less likely to trade it. If the class is successful, it'll be the most fun she's had all summer.
So there I was… standing at the head of my dining room table, a sea of excited, smiling faces looking up at me. In the centre of the table are numerous peelers, graters, grinders, whisks, measuring cups and spoons, bowls, jars, a baking dish, knives, chopping blocks, even a righteous food processor. Each child has his own set of recipes, and each is attired in play-clothes and a comfy apron.
We'll make wraps with three fillings and a coleslaw salad. Also mayonnaise and vinaigrette dressing made from scratch so the children can experience an epiphany – not everything comes in a jar. And last, a delicious peach crisp for dessert, the fruit replaceable with any other seasonal fruit such as apples, apricots or plums.
What's a wrap? Take one large tortilla; spread as many fillings on it as you want - hummus, tuna salad, deviled eggs, slices of turkey and chicken. Scatter sprouts, lettuce, tomatoes, mushrooms, carrot and celery sticks, avocado, red and green onions, cucumber, spinach over the filling; top with olives, pickles – even baked tofu or pretzels, then fold together in a neat package.
We want to instil not only a joy of cooking but also a sense of adventure and creativity. As with any subject, first we learn the fundamentals, then we experiment.
Read each recipe out loud before you start assembling it. You might want to begin with the Peach Crisp since it has to bake for an hour. Demonstrate the safe, proper way of holding a knife, slicing, dicing, grating, and measuring. When all the recipes are completed, demonstrate how to fold the tortilla tightly into a wrap so the filling doesn't ooze out. That's a self-esteem builder right there.
Dole out responsibilities. It's best if one person does a task while the others watch. They'll get a sense of the continuity of completing a dish.
When you ask for volunteers, beware! You've never seen so many hands shooting in the air to do anything. Or everything! You're suddenly very popular.
The Lunch Box: Since many schools don't have refrigerators to keep lunches fresh, it's best to pack them in an insulated container accompanied by a cooling pack. Mayonnaise is extremely perishable so we've found a recipe where the eggs are cooked instead of raw, and thereby not susceptible to salmonella.
From Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker, Scribner, 1997
Using this technique the yolks are sufficiently cooked so there's no concern about salmonella.
3 egg yolks
3 to 4 1/2 tbsp. cold water or stock
1/2 cup very fresh vegetable or olive oil, at room temperature
1 1/2 to 3 tsp. fresh lemon juice and/or white wine vinegar
1/2 to 1 tsp. dry or Dijon mustard
salt and ground white pepper to taste
Combine in a medium stainless steel bowl or saucepan with sloping sides egg yolks and water or stock. Whisk together vigorously, until frothy 30 to 60 seconds. Hold bowl with potholder and set it over medium heat.
Immediately start whisking and whisk nonstop until mixture is frothy and beginning to stiffen and you can glimpse bottom of bowl as you whisk. Immediately remove from the heat and whisk for another 20 seconds to cool the yolks. Immediately add the oil in a thick stream. Whisk just until oil is incorporated – do not overbeat. Remove to a clean bowl and let cool, uncovered. Stir in lemon juice and/or vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper. Cover, refrigerate; it will be ready to serve within 2 to 3 hours. Mayonnaise will keep in refrigerator up to 5 days. Makes one cup
FRESH HERB VINAIGRETTE
1/3 to 1/2 cup red wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice
1 shallot, peeled and minced
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
salt and ground black pepper to taste
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup minced or finely snipped fresh herbs such as basil, dill, parsley, chives
Whisk together until well-blended vinegar or juice, shallot, mustard, salt and pepper. Add oil in a slow stream, whisking constantly until smooth. Add herbs just before using. Makes 1 1/2 cups
CRUNCHY COLE SLAW
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tsp. sugar
3/4 cup herb vinaigrette or more if needed
1 small head green or red cabbage, cored, and outer leaves removed
1 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
1 celery stalk, diced
2 carrots, peeled and grated
1 cup coarsely chopped red onion
3/4 cup chopped red or yellow bell pepper
salt and ground black pepper to taste
Shred cabbage. Place in ice cold water for at least 30 minutes. Set aside. Stir until well-blended mayonnaise, sugar, and vinaigrette. Place cabbage, parsley, celery, carrots, onion and bell pepper in a large bowl. Add cold, crisp cabbage. Stir in just enough dressing to moisten cabbage. Season with salt and pepper. Serves 6
1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas
3 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. tamari soy sauce
juice from 2 medium lemons
3/4 cup tahini
1/4 cup parsley, finely minced
1/4 cup scallions, minced
freshly ground black pepper to taste
Place all ingredients in a food processor equipped with a steel blade. Let processor run for 1 minute or until you reach the desired consistency. Chill thoroughly. Makes 2 cups
According to the time of year you may substitute tart apples, pears, plums, or apricots
8 medium peaches, pitted, peeled and sliced into large chunks
3/4 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
8 tbsp. or 1 stick cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Preheat to 375. Position rack in lower third of oven. Butter a 2- in. deep glass baking dish. Spread peaches evenly in dish.
In a large bowl combine flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Using two dull knives cut butter into dry ingredients until mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs.
Scatter topping evenly over fruit. Bake until topping is golden brown, the juices are bubbling and peaches are tender when pierced with skewer, about 45 to 50 minutes. Makes 6 to 8 servings